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Sharon Cites Chance for ´Breakthrough´ With Palestinians (NY TIMES) By GREG MYRE JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 01/28/05)Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/28/international/middleeast/28mideast.html NEW YORK TIMES NEW YORK TIMES Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
JERUSALEM, Jan. 27 - In unusually upbeat remarks, the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, said Thursday that there was an opportunity for a "historic breakthrough" with the Palestinians, and he had warm words for their new leader, Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr. Abbas called for a formal cease-fire agreement with Israel, while his prime minister ordered a ban on carrying weapons in areas under Palestinian security control, the latest of several steps intended to rein in militants.

Mr. Sharon has expressed skepticism about whether such steps are substantive. But on Thursday, he offered some of his most optimistic comments since Mr. Abbas was elected on Jan. 9.

"I believe that the conditions have been created that will allow us and the Palestinians to reach a historic breakthrough in relations," Mr. Sharon said Thursday night in a speech in Tel Aviv. "It seems that there is a positive approach there regarding the war on terrorism and advancing the diplomatic process."

"If the Palestinians take comprehensive action to stop terrorism, violence and incitement," he said, then the Middle East peace plan known as the road map could begin being put into place, and the coming Israeli withdrawal from Gaza could be coordinated. He spoke during a visit by William J. Burns, the chief State Department diplomat for the Middle East.

Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei issued the weapons ban at a meeting of the Palestinian National Security Council in Ramallah, said Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator.

For more than four years, swaggering Palestinian gunmen have routinely carried weapons on Palestinian streets.

Initially, the order applies to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho, Mr. Erekat said. Mr. Abbas has been calling for a halt to violence against Israel and has won an informal pledge from militant factions to suspend attacks. But the factions are demanding that Israel agree to stop arresting or killing wanted Palestinians.

On Thursday, before a trip to Jordan and other countries in the region, Mr. Abbas said he was seeking a formal cease-fire.

"We are very interested in the issue of a cease-fire, and the issue of a declaration of a cease-fire, and we´ve informed the Israelis of this," Mr. Abbas said. "The Israelis have to respond quickly and not wait for another two or three weeks."

Israeli officials have said that Israel will respond to quiet with quiet, but they have been hesitant to go further.

"I intend to make gestures toward Abu Mazen and at the same time keep my eyes open and examine the situation on their side," Mr. Sharon said.

In another development, Palestinians staged municipal elections in Gaza, with balloting held in 10 communities, most of them small. The results, expected Friday, will offer some sense of the relative strength of Mr. Abbas´s Fatah movement and Hamas, the Islamic faction that has carried out many suicide bombings and other attacks.

The local elections began last month in more than two dozen West Bank communities. Additional rounds are planned in the West Bank and Gaza in the coming months.

While violence has declined, it has not stopped. Israeli troops shot dead a mentally ill Palestinian man on a road in central Gaza that is for the exclusive use of Jewish settlers and the Israeli military, the Palestinians and the Israeli military said. Palestinian medical officials identified the man as Said Zaker, 30.

In another development, Israel´s attorney general said the Jewish National Fund, which owns many thousands of acres of Israeli land, was not permitted to sell property only to Jews, and must also allow Arabs and other non-Jews to buy land. (Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company 01/28/05)


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