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Sharon to Meet Abbas Next Month to Revive Peacemaking (REUTERS) By Corinne Heller JERUSALEM, ISRAEL Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah 01/29/05 05:26 PM ET)Source: http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=topNews&storyID=7474398 Reuters News Service Reuters News Service Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will hold his first meeting with new Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas next month to try to end a Palestinian uprising and resume peacemaking, both sides said on Saturday.

The meeting in the second week in February coincides with a planned visit by new Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. It follows a sharp drop in violence and an Israeli pledge to reduce its military operations in Palestinian areas.

Sharon´s spokesman, David Baker, said the objective of the talks was to "make progress between both sides, contingent on continued efforts by the Palestinians to prevent terrorism to Israel."

This would mark the first meeting between Sharon as Israel´s prime minister and Abbas as Palestinian president. Abbas, backed by the United States as a moderate and reformist, was elected to succeed Yasser Arafat on Jan. 9.

Violence has dropped sharply after Abbas deployed his security forces in Gaza this week to stop gunmen. Israel said in response that it would reduce its militant operations.

He is also negotiating with militants for a mutual truce with Israel ahead of its planned pullout from Gaza this year.

Abbas plans to ask Sharon for further steps, such as halting Israel´s construction of Jewish settlements and its West Bank barrier, which cuts into land Palestinians want for a state, Palestinian cabinet minister Ghassen al-Khatib said.

"HISTORIC BREAKTHROUGH"

Sharon said on Thursday that conditions were right for a "historic breakthrough" to help revive a U.S.-backed peace "road map," which charters mutual steps to an end to bloodshed and the formation of an independent Palestinian state.

"The Palestinians will implement their obligations under the road map, such as restoring law and order, cessation of violence against Israelis and continuing the process of reform," al-Khatib said.

Israeli and Palestinian officials planned to meet next week to prepare for an Abbas-Sharon summit. The two leaders last met and signed the road map in 2003 when Abbas served as Arafat´s prime minister. It has since been stalled by bloodshed.

Abbas has been speaking to militant leaders to secure a truce ahead of Israel´s withdrawal from Gaza. They say they will consider one if Israel agrees to more of their demands, including releasing Palestinian prisoners.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and former Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan met in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv on Saturday to discuss the cease-fire, as well as further security coordination, such as Israeli pullbacks from Palestinian towns.

Abbas is expected to appoint Dahlan and Nasser Yousef, both part of his Fatah group´s "new guard" who had pushed for security reforms from Yasser Arafat´s government, as top ministers in his new cabinet, Palestinian officials said.

They said the two would play major roles in coordinating Palestinian security control in the West Bank and Gaza. Their appointments would be submitted to the Palestinian Legislative Council in two weeks for approval, they said.

Dahlan and Yousef served in Abbas´s short lived cabinet when he was prime minister in 2003. He resigned months later, saying he didn´t receive enough cooperation from Arafat and Israel. (Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah) (© Reuters 2005 01/29/05)


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