Sharon, Abbas To Meet In Egypt - Abdullah, Mubarak Will Attend Summit (WASHINGTON POST) By John Ward Anderson JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 02/03/05 Page A18)
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JERUSALEM, Feb. 2 -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the new
president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, will meet next
week at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, according to
a statement by Sharon´s office. It will be their first meeting since
Abbas was elected on Jan. 9 to replace Yasser Arafat.
Tuesday´s summit also will be attended by Egyptian President Hosni
Mubarak and Jordan´s King Abdullah, according to a statement from
Mubarak´s office carried by Egypt´s official MENA news service. The
statement said Mubarak proposed the meeting "in view of the delicate
situation of the peace process and in order to seize an existing
opportunity to achieve substantial progress."
Abbas has been trying to cement a cease-fire deal among such militant
Palestinian groups as Islamic Jihad and the Islamic Resistance
Movement, or Hamas, that would stop attacks against Israelis
everywhere. In return, the groups have demanded that Israel release
thousands of Palestinian prisoners and stop targeting Palestinian
militant leaders for assassination, among other gestures.
Israel has rejected the possibility of making any agreement with the
groups but has said it will respond to quiet with quiet. There was a
dramatic reduction in violence last week, but several attacks in
recent days have tested the fragile accommodation between the two
sides, and efforts to achieve a formal cease-fire among the
Palestinians seem to have stalled.
The meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh will come on the heels of a visit to
Israel and the West Bank on Sunday and Monday by Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice, who could play a role in softening or stiffening
the Israeli and Palestinian positions.
Among the matters expected to be discussed at the summit are a
release of hundreds and potentially thousands of Palestinian
prisoners from Israeli jails, the lifting of Israeli roadblocks and
checkpoints throughout the West Bank and curtailment of Israel´s
assassination policy. An Israeli decision to turn over security
authority in major West Bank cities and towns to Palestinian security
forces and coordination of the proposed withdrawal of Israeli troops
and Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip this year will also be on the
agenda, said an Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Israel currently plans to implement the withdrawal unilaterally.
The return of Egypt´s ambassador to Tel Aviv will also likely be
discussed, as will the deployment of more Egyptian troops along the
Gaza border to combat the smuggling of weapons into Gaza.
The official said Israel was seeking signs that the Palestinians were
doing "whatever has to be done to put the whole peace process back on
track, and for us that means dismantling the infrastructure of
The last time Sharon and Abbas met -- in June 2003, at a summit in
Jordan attended by President Bush to launch a peace plan called
the "road map" -- "there was a major figure who overshadowed it," the
official said in an apparent reference to Arafat.
Now, "the whole atmosphere has changed -- there is an elected partner
with authority who has been endorsed by the international community
and Israel," he said, referring to Abbas. "Sharm el-Sheikh should
provide him with a platform to do what is expected of him by the
international community, and it should provide Prime Minster Sharon
to do what is expected of him. Everyone understands that we need more
than a photo op."
Egypt, which borders the Gaza Strip, and Jordan, which borders the
West Bank, are the only Arab countries that have signed peace accords
with Israel. They have large Palestinian populations and have played
key mediating roles over the years not only between the Israelis and
Palestinians but also between Palestinian factions and the
Palestinian Authority, the entity created by the 1993 Oslo peace
accords to govern the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Both countries have offered to help reform and train the Palestinian
security forces that would be called upon to enforce any official
cease-fire and that also would have to fill any security vacuum left
in the Gaza Strip by Israel´s withdrawal this summer.
In a sign of his key role as a go-between, the Egyptian intelligence
chief, Omar Suleiman, who carried Mubarak´s invitation to Sharon in
Jerusalem on Wednesday, earlier in the day met in Cairo with Khaled
Mishal, the Syrian-based leader of Hamas.
In an interview with al-Jazeera television, Mishal said a Palestinian
cease-fire was "dependent on a summit" and on Israel´s willingness to
offer concessions. (© 2005 The Washington Post Company 02/03/05)
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