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Abbas, Sharon to Meet in February (AP) By MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH RAMALLAH 01/29/05 8:49 AM)Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A46675-2005Jan29.html AP} ASSOCIATED PRESS AP} ASSOCIATED PRESS Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
RAMALLAH, West Bank - Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will hold their first summit during the second week of February, a senior Palestinian official said Saturday, in what would be the highest-level contacts between the two sides in more than a year and a half.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Mohammed Dahlan, a top Palestinian security official, were to meet later Saturday to prepare for the summit, officials said. The talks are expected to focus on an Israeli military pullback from five West Bank cities.

The summit would cap a series of recent steps by Israel and the Palestinians to end more than four years of fighting and resume peace talks. Differences over the agenda remain, however, raising questions about what will come out of the gathering.

Hassan Abu Libdeh, the Palestinian Cabinet secretary, said he expects the summit to take place within two weeks. "The date will be set according to the results of the meetings this week between Palestinian and Israeli officials," he said.

One Palestinian official who asked to remain unidentified said the meeting would take place on Feb. 8. Israeli officials said nothing has yet been confirmed.

The summit would be the first gathering of Israeli and Palestinian leaders since Sharon and Abbas signed the "road map" peace plan in June 2003. Abbas was the Palestinian prime minister at the time.

The U.S.-backed plan, which aims to establish an independent Palestinian state, quickly fell into disarray amid continued fighting and violations by both sides.

Palestinian officials said Abbas is seeking a wide-ranging agenda for the summit, including a formal cease-fire, a large-scale release of Palestinian prisoners and the resumption of road map talks.

Israeli officials said they will consider all Palestinian requests but want the summit to focus on security issues. "The road to the road map ends with a halt in violence, terrorism and incitement," said a senior official on condition of anonymity.

He dismissed calls for a formal cease-fire, saying that changes on the ground are far more important than verbal promises. "Without real steps, there can´t be any progress on the political agenda."

The two sides have already shown signs of progress.

Since his election this month, Abbas has coaxed Palestinian militants into suspending attacks on Israeli targets and deployed thousands of Palestinian police throughout the Gaza Strip to help ensure calm.

In response, the Israeli military halted offensive operations in Gaza and said the army would scale back operations in the West Bank as well. But the Palestinians want Israel to go further.

Dahlan, a senior security adviser to Abbas, said his meeting with Mofaz on Saturday would focus on Israeli military withdrawals from five cities in the West Bank, the release of Palestinian prisoners, and the safety of 400 Palestinian militants wanted by Israeli authorities.

Amos Gilad, a senior adviser to Mofaz, said Israel is ready to work with the Palestinians and would consider widespread concessions.

"There will be a new attitude of flexibility with real intention to give a chance to the new Palestinian government, which has declared that its interest is to fight terror," Gilad told Israel Radio on Saturday. "At this stage the defense establishment, including the Israeli army and all the rest are willing to do everything, really everything, to allow this seedling to blossom."

Abbas met Saturday in Cairo with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a key Arab mediator throughout the turbulent Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Egypt has been leading Arab-world efforts to get all Palestinian militant factions to agree to a cease-fire.

Senior Egyptian officials are expected to travel to the Palestinian territories next week to discuss the cease-fire and deploying 750 Egyptian troops along the Gaza border. The moves are preparation for Israel´s planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip this summer.

Sharon initially proposed the Gaza withdrawal as a unilateral move. But recently he has expressed willingness to coordinate the pullout with Abbas.

While violence has fallen sharply in recent weeks, the body of a 30- year-old Palestinian man with bullet wounds to his chest was discovered near the Israeli border in southern Gaza on Saturday.

Residents said the man, who was mentally impaired, had been missing for three days, and police said it was unclear when he was shot. Israeli military officials said they had no information on the shooting but said troops had not opened fire in the area on Saturday. (Copyright 2005 Associated Press. 01/29/05)

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