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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 12:56 PM ET)Source: http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=topNews&storyID=7515676 Reuters News Service Reuters News Service Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Egypt next week, the first summit between the two sides in four years of armed conflict, officials said on Wednesday.

The talks, to be joined by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan´s King Abdullah, would aim to solidify a shaky new de facto cease-fire by setting in motion a peace process based on a U.S.- backed "road map" to a Palestinian state.

Sharon, who refused to meet Abbas´s late predecessor Yasser Arafat, and the Palestinian leader accepted invitations from Mubarak to meet at Sharm el-Sheikh on the Red Sea on Feb. 8.

Mubarak´s office said it was time for a summit "in light of the delicacy of the stage the peace process is going through and in an endeavor to seize the auspicious opportunity to achieve tangible progress on the Palestinian track."

Egypt and Jordan signed peace deals with Israel in 1979 and 1994 respectively, the only Arab states to do so, and have acted as intermediaries during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A senior Israeli official said Sharon would be looking at the summit for Palestinian commitments to "prevent terrorism" by dissolving militant groups. Persuading them to observe a truce was not enough to launch road map talks, he said.

"They want to move fast on political issues but we will accept no leapfrogging over security commitments written into the first phase of the road map," he told Reuters.

Abbas, citing a concern not to stir civil unrest, has said he wants to co-opt rather than crush militants many Palestinians regard favorably as "freedom fighters" in occupied territories.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie said Abbas would seek an Israeli promise to stop all military action, free thousands of jailed militants and withdraw forces from Palestinian areas.

He said Palestinians "will exert 100 percent effort" on security but expected Israel to honor reciprocal obligations in the road map, including a halt to expansion of settlements in the West Bank.

Abbas´s election last month to succeed Arafat, whom Israel and the United States shunned after branding him an obstacle to peace, has rekindled U.S. engagement in Middle East diplomacy.

RICE TO VISIT BEFORE SUMMIT

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 Gaza this summer but vows to keep larger West Bank settlements 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 for a state with East Jerusalem as their capital. Israel captured all three areas in the 1967 Middle East war.

The two sides also disagree over the pace and goals of talks. Sharon would prefer a longer-term interim deal for a provisional Palestinian state with Israel overseeing its borders. Palestinians want full independence in the near future.

Sharon and Abbas last met in Jordan in June 2003, during Abbas´s brief tenure as Arafat´s prime minister, along with President Bush. Those talks launched the road map, but it was then swiftly sidelined by violence.

A summit has been mooted since Abbas cajoled militants into a tacit truce to help him embark on the road map. Israel replied by curtailing military action but has refused a formal truce.

Hair-trigger tensions simmer. In fresh outbreaks of shooting since Sunday, Israeli soldiers killed an elderly Palestinian in a Gaza border zone and Palestinians fired more mortars into Jewish settlements in Gaza, causing damage but no casualties.

In an apparent Egyptian effort to shore up and formalize the cease- fire, leaders of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant factions were in Cairo for talks on Wednesday.

In Amman, King Abdullah met President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, which Israel says is aiding Palestinian militants. Sharon has responded coolly to signals Assad is open to direct talks.

Israel said earlier it might suspend its hunt for militants to help Abbas, who aides say could command more obedience from gunmen if Israeli forces ended raids to kill or capture them.

Officials said Sharon would convene his inner cabinet on Thursday to discuss halting the pursuit of wanted men. (Additional reporting by Wafa Amr and Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah, Dan Williams in Jerusalem) (© Reuters 2005 02/02/05)


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