Sharon, Abbas to Have First Summit in Egypt - Aides (REUTERS) By Mark Heinrich JERUSALEM, ISRAEL Additional reporting by Wafa Amr and Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah, Dan Williams in Jerusalem 02/02/05 08:35 AM ET)
Reuters News Service
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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will meet
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Egypt next week, the highest-
level summit between the sides in four years of armed conflict,
officials said on Wednesday.
The talks would aim to build on a fragile, de facto cease-fire
engineered by Abbas after his Jan. 9 election by launching a peace
process based on a U.S.-backed "road map" to a Palestinian state in
the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza.
Aides to Sharon and Abbas said they had accepted an invitation from
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to a meeting on Feb. 8 in the Sinai
Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh.
Palestinian officials said King Abdullah of Jordan was also
expected. Egypt and Jordan signed peace deals with Israel in 1979
and 1994, the only Arab states to do so, and have played
intermediary roles during the conflict.
"A four-way summit will be held ... to try to advance the peace
process," an official close to Abbas told Reuters. An Egyptian
official said it was too early to comment.
Abbas´s rise to succeed Yasser Arafat, whom Israel and the United
States shunned after branding him an obstacle to peace, has
rekindled U.S. engagement in Middle East diplomacy.
New Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due to meet Sharon and
Abbas separately during a trip to Jerusalem and Ramallah the day
before the summit.
But a stable, lasting peace may still be far off. Israel plans to
quit tiny Gaza this summer but vows to hold onto larger settlements
in the West Bank forever. The two sides also remain poles apart on
the status of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.
Palestinians want all of the West Bank and Gaza and Arab East
Jerusalem for their capital. Israel captured all three areas in the
1967 Middle East war.
Sharon and Abbas last met in Jordan in June 2003, during Abbas´s
brief tenure as Arafat´s prime minister, along with President Bush,
to launch the road map, which was then swiftly sidelined by violence.
FRAGILE CALM ON THE GROUND
A summit has been mooted since Abbas cajoled militants to suspend a
four-year-old revolt to help him launch road map talks. Israel
responded by curtailing military actions.
Sharon´s office said the invitation to the summit was delivered by
Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman during a visit to
Jerusalem on Wednesday.
Abbas has also accepted an invitation to pay an official visit to
Iran, Palestinian officials said.
Iran has backed Palestinian militants, but has said in the past it
would not be against a two-state solution to the Middle East
conflict if that is what Palestinians wanted.
Earlier, Israel said it might suspend its hunt for militants to help
Abbas, who believes he could restrain gunmen better if Israeli
forces ended raids to kill or capture them.
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
discuss halting the pursuit of wanted men before the summit with
"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.
Israel had earlier refused to back off its demand, laid out in
the "road map," for a Palestinian crackdown on militants. But to
avoid civil strife, Abbas aims to co-opt rather than try to disarm
and jail militants. (Additional reporting by Wafa Amr and Mohammed
Assadi in Ramallah, Dan Williams in Jerusalem) (© Reuters 2005
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