Sharon, Abbas Expected to Meet in Egypt (REUTERS) By Dan Williams JERUSALEM, ISRAEL Additional reporting by Wafa Amr and Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah 02/02/05 06:38 AM ET)
Reuters News Service
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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will meet
new Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Egypt next week, the first
summit between the sides in nearly four years of armed conflict,
Sharon´s office said.
It said Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak invited them to the meeting
on Feb. 8 in the Sinai Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh. An Egyptian
official said it was too early to comment. There was no initial
comment from Palestinians.
The summit coincides with renewed Bush administration interest in the
Middle East. New Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due to meet
both Sharon and Abbas separately during a trip to Jerusalem and
Ramallah the day before.
A summit has been expected since Abbas, who was elected to succeed
late Yasser Arafat last month, managed to coax a de-facto truce from
militants waging an uprising in occupied territories. Israeli
responded by curtailing military actions.
Sharon´s office said the invitation to the summit was delivered by
Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, on a visit to Jerusalem on
Abbas, who wants calm to negotiate for a Palestinian state in the
West Bank and Gaza, has also accepted an invitation to pay an
official visit to Iran, Palestinian officials said.
Iran is sworn to Israel´s destruction and has backed Palestinian
militants, but has said in the past that it would not be against a
two-state solution to the Middle East conflict if that is what
Earlier, Israel said it might suspend its hunt for militants to boost
Abbas, who has made resuming peace talks conditional on an end to
Israeli army raids to kill and capture wanted gunmen whom he has
persuaded to observe calm.
Abbas has also demanded the release of thousands of Palestinian
security prisoners jailed in Israel.
Officials said Sharon would convene his inner cabinet on Thursday to
weigh a halt to pursuit of wanted men before the summit with Abbas.
TEMPORARY HALT TO PURSUING MILITANTS
"We are talking not about granting clemency, but a freeze. A freeze
means that everything is temporary," senior Defense Ministry official
Amos Gilad told Israel´s Army Radio.
"That is, if they resume terror, and the murders and attacks
continue, then we will resume vigorous action. Ultimately you need a
reliable partner, otherwise there will be no solution."
Israeli media said the Shin Bet security service had balked at
including militants wanted for deadly attacks in the freeze, which
would be finalized in security talks with Palestinians.
"This issue was discussed with the Israeli side and we will hold
another meeting tomorrow," Palestinian Negotiations Minister Saeb
Erekat told Reuters in the West Bank.
Israel had earlier refused to back off its demand, enshrined in a
U.S.-led peace "road map," for a Palestinian crackdown on factions
spearheading a four-year-long uprising. Some of the fugitives are in
groups sworn to Israel´s destruction.
But to avoid civil strife, Abbas aims to co-opt rather than try to
disarm and jail militants. He has engaged them in truce talks that
have secured a rare calm and prompted Israel to curtail missions to
kill or capture militant leaders.
Abbas, whose rise has revived Middle East peace hopes buried by years
of bloodshed, hopes the informal cease-fire would prevent chaos when
Israel evacuates the occupied territory this summer under a Sharon
plan to "disengage" from conflict.
Thousands of Palestinian security forces have fanned out in Gaza
after an absence of years to stabilize the truce and Israel has
raised the prospect of a follow-up pullback from cities in the
occupied West Bank, a long-time Palestinian demand.
Rice, expected to promote the road map to Palestinian statehood in
the West Bank and Gaza during her visit, on Tuesday held out the
possibility of U.S. support to strengthen Palestinian security forces.
"Obviously the Palestinians are going to need help in terms of
training and equipping their new security forces and I am sure that
there will be ways that we might be involved in that," she told
Reuters and Agence France-Presse.
"What I hope to do when I go there is to try and sustain -- help to
sustain -- the momentum that they (Israelis and Palestinians) have
clearly developed over the last several weeks." (Additional reporting
by Wafa Amr and Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah) (© Reuters 2005
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