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 and Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Jerusalem 02/02/05 07:26 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
ceasefire 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.
In a pre-summit
gesture, senior Israeli cabinet ministers will meet
on Thursday to discuss scheduling a handover to Palestinians of West
Bank cities reoccupied in recent conflict and freeing Palestinian
prisoners, political sources said.
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
endeavour 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.
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
favourably as freedom fighters in occupied
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie said Abbas
would seek an
Israeli promise to stop all military action, free thousands of jailed
militants, and to honour obligations in the road map, including a
halt to expanding settlements in the West Bank.
APPROVE HANDOVER OF WEST BANK CITIES
Israeli political sources
said Sharon would convene his inner cabinet
to approve a gradual handover to Palestinians of five West Bank
cities recaptured in a 4-year-old uprising, and to release up to 500
Israel said it might also 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.
reports said Israel expects Egypt and Jordan to announce plans
at the summit to return ambassadors withdrawn during the
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.
deployed Palestinian police on the Gaza Strip borders with
Israel to prevent attacks on Israel. On Wednesday Palestinian police
destroyed an arms-smuggling tunnel on Gaza´s border with Egypt as
part of a campaign to halt violence between militants and Israeli
troops, Palestinian officials said.
New U.S. 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.
Sources in Washington said U.S. President
George W. Bush would pledge
some $350 million in aid to Palestinians in his State of the Union
Address to help them prepare for Israel´s planned Gaza
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.
The two sides also remain poles apart on the status of Jerusalem and
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.
Sharon and Abbas last met in Jordan in
June 2003, during Abbas´s
brief tenure as Arafat´s prime minister, along with Bush.
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.
trigger tensions simmer. Israeli soldiers killed an elderly
Palestinian near the Gaza border and Palestinians fired mortars at
Jewish settlements, causing damage but no casualties.
apparent Egyptian effort to formalise a ceasefire, leaders of
the Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant factions were in Cairo for talks
(Additional reporting by Wafa Amr and Mohammed
Assadi in Ramallah,
Dan Williams and Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Jerusalem) (© Reuters 2005
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