Egypt Offers to Host Mideast Summit (AP) By AMY TEIBEL JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 02/02/05 7:00 AM)
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JERUSALEM - In a bold initiative, Egypt offered Wednesday to host a
long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian summit next week, and Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon accepted the invitation, Sharon´s office said.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak´s offer to bring Sharon and
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-
Sheik on Tuesday boosts chances that the summit will indeed take
In recent days, there had been increasing bickering over what issues
to raise in an Abbas-Sharon meeting, and disagreements remain over
the scope of a Palestinian prisoner release, the fate of Palestinian
fugitives and a West Bank troop redeployment.
The arrival of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the region over
the weekend also intensifies pressure on the two sides to attend the
summit and settle some of their differences over what should be
announced after such a meeting. It was not clear whether Rice would
also fly to Sharm el-Sheik.
Palestinian officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Abbas was visiting Turkey on Wednesday and was to fly to Jordan later
in the day. However, it appeared unlikely Egypt would have extended
the invitation to Sharon without Abbas´ knowledge.
The trip to Egypt would mark a major achievement for Sharon whom
Mubarak has steadfastly refused to meet since the hardline Israeli
politician became prime minister in 2001. Israeli radios described
the invitation to Egypt as "historic."
The invitation was offered during a hastily arranged meeting
Wednesday between Sharon and Egyptian intelligence chief Omar
Suleiman. A day before, Suleiman had held talks in Cairo with the
leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Khaled Mashaal and Ramadan Shalah.
The intelligence chief´s unexpected trip to Jerusalem signaled that
he made progress in winning a promise from the Palestinian militant
groups to halt attacks on Israel.
Israelis and Palestinians have taken major steps toward a cease-fire
in recent days, but have not yet agreed on a mutual truce
declaration. Palestinian security forces have deployed in Gaza to
prevent attacks, and Abbas has won an informal promise from militant
leaders to suspend attacks, provided Israel halts military
operations. Israel has said it will halt operations in Gaza and scale
them back in the West Bank.
However, in recent days the two sides got bogged down in mutual
accusations, following a spike in violence, including the killing of
a 10-year-old Palestinian girl in Gaza on Monday. Each side has said
the other was responsible for the death of the girl, which triggered
a Palestinian mortar barrage.
In other developments Wednesday, a senior Israeli Defense Ministry
official said the two sides plan to set up a panel to take some
Palestinian fugitives off Israel´s wanted list, signaling progress
toward easing a major source of contention. Israel has vigorously
pursued fugitives during four years of fighting, killing or arresting
hundreds, and is chasing several hundred more, the Palestinian
Amos Gilad, the Defense Ministry official, told Israel´s Army Radio
that Cabinet ministers are set to approve formation of the panel
later this week.
Israel won´t go after Palestinian fugitives who hand in their weapons
and sign a written agreement pledging not to carry out attacks
against Israeli targets, Gilad said. Any fugitive who violates the
pledge will again become a target, he added.
The Palestinians seek blanket amnesty for all fugitives. Abbas has
said repeatedly he would not confront the militants, preferring to co-
opt them. One idea is to bring them into Palestinian security forces.
Gilad brushed off criticism that ending the hunt for fugitives would
be tantamount to pardoning Palestinians responsible for killing
Israelis. "We have to include all the fugitives who stop being
active. ... We are not talking about pardoning," Gilad said. "If they
return to terror and if the attacks and the murders continue, then in
the end we will return to a different type of vigorous activity," he
Referring to the relative quiet that has prevailed in the area in
recent weeks, Gilad added, "There is an opportunity here that must be
exploited. All quiet is built on understandings."
Israel´s Security Cabinet is to meet Thursday to discuss the agenda
of the Abbas-Sharon summit.
The ministers are expected to approve the release of several hundred
Palestinian prisoners, which would fall short of Palestinian demands,
and the phased handover of five West Banks towns.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath, meanwhile, said Rice told
him a telephone call Tuesday that she is encouraged by progress in
the region. "She thinks that there is an opportunity that should be
seized, and she will work with both of us in order that this
opportunity will be seized," Shaath said.
In another sign that the new Palestinian leadership is serious about
reining in militants, Palestinian security forces destroyed a tunnel
along the Gaza-Egypt border Wednesday. Israel has long demanded that
the Palestinian security forces destroy the tunnels, often used by
militants to smuggle weapons from Egypt into Gaza Strip. (Copyright
2005 Associated Press. 02/02/05)
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