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Israel to Weigh Pre-Summit Gestures for Abbas(REUTERS) By Allyn Fisher-Ilan JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 02/02/05 08:14 PM ET)Source: http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=topNews&storyID=7519523 Reuters News Service Reuters News Service Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will convene top cabinet deputies on Thursday to debate offering goodwill gestures to Palestinians in advance of a summit next week in Egypt to restart long-stalled peace talks.

The meeting comes a day after Egypt invited Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for a first summit between the two sides since an outbreak of violence in 2000, to be held on Feb. 8, at Sharm el-Sheikh on the Red Sea.

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

The summit was called as President Bush showed renewed interest in encouraging Middle East diplomacy. New Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was due to meet Sharon and Abbas separately in the region next week.

Sources in Washington said Bush would pledge $350 million in aid to Palestinians in his State of the Union address to help them prepare for Israel´s planned Gaza withdrawal.

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 ministers will discuss scheduling a handover to Palestinians of five West Bank cities reoccupied in four years of conflict, freeing up to 500 prisoners and suspending a hunt for militants who surrender their guns, political sources said.

Israel may also open more crossing points for Palestinians in territories occupied in the 1967 Middle East War, they said.

RESTORE AMBASSADORS

In exchange for these gestures, Israel expects both Egypt and Jordan to restore ambassadors to Tel Aviv who had been recalled when the uprising flared.

Israel also seeks further Palestinian commitment to rein in militants.

While Israel has curtailed military action as Palestinians under the moderate Abbas have nearly halted attacks, it has refused a formal truce and seeks a complete dissolution of militant groups.

"We do not see any active work in which they (Palestinians) arrest terrorists," Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told army officers while visiting troops in Gaza on Wednesday.

"I had hoped it would start to happen sooner," 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," a senior official told Reuters of Israel´s expectations at the coming summit.

Abbas, citing a concern not to stir civil unrest, has said he wants to co-opt rather than crush militants.

Palestinians have also demanded greater Israeli compliance with obligations of the road map including a halt to Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank.

In Cairo, Egyptian officials made some progress in efforts to persuade Palestinian militants to reach a cease-fire.

After talks on Wednesday, Khaled Meshaal, the exiled leader of the Islamic group Hamas said he had noted "some change in the Israeli position" and repeated demands that Israel release Palestinian detainees and stop attacks on Hamas. (© Reuters 2005 02/02/05)


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