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)
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 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
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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