Sharon, Abbas to Hold Summit in February (AP) By MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH RAMALLAH 01/29/05 10:24 AM)
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RAMALLAH, West Bank - Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will hold their first summit early next
month, a senior Palestinian official said Saturday, in what would be
the highest-level contacts between the two sides in more than 18
Also, Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said the Abbas
government was "very close" to reaching an agreement with militant
groups on a cease-fire with Israel.
Shaath said representatives of the groups - including Hamas and
Islamic Jihad - will travel to Cairo in the first week of February
for talks with Egyptian security officials. Those meetings are aimed
at securing an end to hostilities against Israel within the framework
of a Palestinian national accord.
"I think we are very close to a national agreement," he said.
However, Israel must formally accept the cease-fire, withdraw its
troops from West Bank cities and release Palestinian prisoners for
the Palestinian groups to move forward with the accord, he said.
"All of these measures will help to cement the cease-fire," he said.
Speaking at the airport in Amman, Abbas said talks with the
militants "have come a long way," but more discussions were necessary.
Adding to the growing diplomatic momentum in the region, Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice will visit the region Feb. 6 or 7, a senior
Palestinian official said.
Rice promised during her Senate confirmation hearings that she would
become personally involved in efforts to resolve the Arab-Israeli
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Mohammed Dahlan, a top
Palestinian security official, were to meet later Saturday to prepare
for the Sharon-Abbas 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. It would be the first gathering of Israeli and Palestinian
leaders since Sharon and Abbas signed the so-called "road map" peace
plan in June 2003. Abbas was the Palestinian prime minister at the
Differences over the agenda remain, however, raising questions about
what will come out of any new gathering.
Hassan Abu Libdeh, the Palestinian Cabinet secretary, said he
expected the summit to take place within two weeks.
One Palestinian official said on condition of anonymity the meeting
would take place Feb. 8. Israeli officials said nothing was confirmed.
Palestinian officials said Abbas was seeking a wide-ranging agenda
for the summit, including a formal cease-fire, a large-scale release
of Palestinian prisoners and the resumption of talks on the peace
Israeli officials said they would consider all Palestinian requests
but want the summit to focus on security issues, particularly a halt
in violence and incitement. Israeli leaders have so far balked at a
formal declaration of a cease-fire.
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.
Libdeh expressed hope that Rice´s visit would provide a new push for
the peace plan.
"We highly appreciate this American interest in what is going on in
the Palestinian territories," Libdeh said. "We hope that this will be
a beginning of a big American involvement between the parties to
implement the ´road map.´"
The two sides already have shown signs of progress.
Since his election earlier 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
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
Amos Gilad, a senior adviser to Mofaz, said Israel was 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
"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. Shaath also said the
Palestinians would be sending 40 police officers to Egypt next week
for security training. The moves are in preparation for Israel´s
planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip this summer.
Sharon initially proposed the Gaza withdrawal as a unilateral move
but recently has expressed willingness to coordinate the pullout with
Abbas. (Copyright 2005 Associated Press. 01/29/05)
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