Abbas and Sharon agree to meet at peace summit (LONDON TIMES) From Ian MacKinnon in Jerusalem, ISRAEL 02/03/05)
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THE Palestinian leader is to meet the Israeli Prime Minister at a
momentous summit in Egypt next Tuesday in the highest-level talks in
almost four years.
Mahmoud Abbas and Ariel Sharon, meeting in the Egyptian Red Sea
resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, will try to build on the momentum created
by a sharp drop in the violence and improvements in security since Mr
Abbas won a landslide election victory last month.
Palestinians hope that the summit, hosted by President Mubarak of
Egypt and attended by King Abdullah of Jordan, will result eventually
in the formal declaration of a ceasefire. The meeting comes four
years after Ehud Barak, then Israel’s Prime Minister, met Yassir
Arafat at the same resort weeks after the outbreak of the intifada.
Mr Sharon met Mr Abbas during his brief stint as Prime Minister at
Aqaba in June 2003 when they launched the “road map” with President
The scope of the talks next week has yet to be decided, but the
arrival in the region of Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State,
who is to meet Mr Sharon and Mr Abbas a day before the summit, is
likely to intensify the pressure for practical measures to maintain
the relative quiet and prepare the way for a return to the road map.
The venue was announced after Omar Suleiman, the Egyptian
intelligence chief, made a last-minute trip to Israel and extended Mr
Mubarak’s invitation during two hours of talks yesterday. General
Suleiman, who has been heavily involved with arrangements over
Egypt’s role in maintaining calm after the Israeli pullout of Gaza
later this year, had talks in the past two days with the leaders of
Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
He is thought to have been trying to secure a commitment that they
will not disrupt the calm that Mr Abbas has sought to instill to give
him room for negotiations with Israel.
Mr Abbas held five days of talks with militant leaders in Gaza to
persuade them to declare a ceasefire. While they declined a formal
truce, they have maintained a de facto ceasefire, although the
killing of a girl aged 10 in Rafah provoked the firing of mortars
into a Jewish settlement in Gaza on Monday. Hamas and Islamic Jihad
pressed Mr Abbas to win guarantees of a formal Israeli ceasefire as
well as the release of Palestinian prisoners, an amnesty for
Palestinian fugitives and the handing over of West Bank cities to
Palestinian control. Ramallah, Tulkarem, Qalqilya, Bethlehem and
Jericho were due to have been handed to Palestinian security forces,
but Israel has slowed the timetable after the militant attacks in
Gaza. (Copyright 2005 Times Newspapers Ltd. 02/03/05)
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