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Abbas and Sharon agree to meet at peace summit (LONDON TIMES) From Ian MacKinnon in Jerusalem, ISRAEL 02/03/05)Source: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,251-1467950,00.html LONDON TIMES LONDON TIMES Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
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 Bush.

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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