Sharon, Abbas Agree to Mideast Summit (AP) By AMY TEIBEL JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 02/02/05 9:42 AM)
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JERUSALEM - In a bold initiative, Egypt summoned the leaders of
Israel, the Palestinians and Jordan on Wednesday to a long-awaited
summit next week, and they agreed to attend.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak offered to host Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan´s
King Abdullah II at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik.
Abdullah, whose country is a peace partner with Israel, is a fervent
supporter of a negotiated Palestinian-Israeli settlement. He
accepted the invitation Wednesday, a senior Jordanian official said
Wednesday on condition of anonymity.
The Egyptian and Jordanian presence would signal Arab support for
any agreements Abbas might reach with Sharon.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said the Palestinians hope
the summit will produce a mutual cease-fire, a halt to Israel´s
targeted killings of militants and the release of Palestinian
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
settle some of their differences over what should be announced after
such a meeting. It was not clear whether Rice also would fly to
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."
Israel´s Security Cabinet will meet Thursday to discuss the agenda
of the Abbas-Sharon summit.
The invitation was offered during a hastily arranged meeting
Wednesday between Sharon and Egyptian intelligence chief Omar
Suleiman. A day before, Suleiman held talks in Cairo with the
leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad - Khaled Mashaal and Ramadan
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 Authority estimates.
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 will not pursue 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
Gilad brushed off criticism that ending the hunt for fugitives would
be tantamount to pardoning Palestinians responsible for killing
"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."
Referring to the relative quiet that has prevailed in the area in
recent weeks, Gilad said, "There is an opportunity here that must be
exploited. All quiet is built on understandings."
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 in a telephone call Tuesday that she was 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.
Militants also have killed Israeli soldiers by digging tunnels under
military installations and packing them with explosives.
Qureia said the Palestinians have agreed in principle with the
Israelis to resume building a seaport in the Gaza Strip and hope to
reach a similar agreement on rehabilitating a Gaza airport badly
damaged in political violence.
Construction on the seaport stopped shortly after violence erupted
four years ago. The seaport and airport are key to improving the
Palestinian economy, especially in the isolated Gaza Strip.
(Copyright 2005 Associated Press. 02/02/05)
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