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Cease-fire to be declared next week (JERUSALEM POST) By KHALED ABU TOAMEH 02/04/05)Source: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1107400722614 JERUSALEM POST JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
The Palestinian Authority will announce a formal cease-fire with Israel at next week´s summit in Sharm e-Sheikh, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) said Thursday.

Abbas is expected to hold a series of meetings over the next few days with senior PA and Fatah officials to prepare for the summit.

Many Palestinians here expressed hope that the summit would mark the beginning of a new era in relations with Israel.

"The most important thing is to secure the release of all the prisoners held in Israel," said a top Fatah official. "The people want to see real changes on the ground, and such a step would restore their confidence in the peace process. It will also boost Abu Mazen´s status."

But a newspaper editor cautioned against "excessive optimism," saying it was premature to talk about a major breakthrough.

"We´re still at the beginning of the road," he said. "I believe the majority of Palestinians are now prepared to stop the intifada and return to the negotiating table. But this will take some time because of all that happened over the past four years."

"We will announce a cease-fire and the Israeli side must announce the same thing," Abbas told reporters outside the Mukata "presidential" compound. "There are positive signs" that Israel will observe the cease-fire, he said.

Abbas, who is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Tuesday for the first time in more than four years, said: "I hope that the summit will be successful. There are many positive signals; otherwise we wouldn´t have agreed to go. We pray to God that the summit will lead to the resumption of the peace process and an agreement on a cease-fire."

In response to Israel´s decision to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners on the eve of the summit, Abbas said: "We don´t know how many will be released. Nor do we know their identities. But we hope that the first group of released prisoners will be big and will include those who have spent many years in prison."

PA Minister for Negotiations Saeb Erekat also voiced optimism that the summit would put an end to the violence.

"You can hear the Palestinian leader saying from Sharm e-Sheikh that the Palestinians are committed to stopping all kinds of violence against Israelis anywhere – period," he said.

Erekat said the summit would be a success "if we can announce a mutual cessation of violence against the other."

In addition, Erekat said, the summit would succeed if the parties resumed security cooperation on the level that existed before the intifada in 2000, and if Israel released a "significant and genuine" number of Palestinian prisoners.

"Also, something must be done about the settlement activities, and the [security] wall, and the [PLO and other Palestinian] offices in east Jerusalem which were closed by the Israelis," he added.

However, PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei sounded less optimistic, saying the situation on the ground remained unchanged because of Israel´s policy of constructing settlements.

"The situation on the ground remains as it is and is even deteriorating day by day," he told a visiting European delegation. "We still don´t see a change in the Israeli strategy, which is based on unilateral decisions, such as the construction of the wall, expanding settlements and isolating [east] Jerusalem."

Qurei nevertheless expressed hope that the upcoming summit would result in the resumption of the peace process and a mutual cease- fire. He also said the Palestinians are hoping that Israel would agree to stop construction in the settlements and the security fence and withdraw its soldiers to their pre-September 28, 2000, positions.

"If Israel is serious, what is preventing it from withdrawing its forces, especially from the three villages surrounding Jerusalem – Abu Dis, Sawahra and Eizariya – and halting its policy of assassination, detention and demolition?" he asked.

Qurei said the PA security forces were ready to assume control of five West Bank cities that will be handed over to the Palestinians next week.

But Hafez Barghouti, editor of the daily Al-Hayat al-Jadeeda, said he did not believe the PA security forces were prepared for the task.

"The experiences of the past have shown that these forces are unable to carry out their duties because they haven´t been reconstructed and because of the lack of coordination between them," he said.

Barghouti cited the lack of discipline and internal squabbling as another reason responsible for the impotence of the security forces.

"In the absence of security discipline and the rule of law, I don´t think that we are capable of assuming security responsibilities in the cities," he said. (© 1995-2005, The Jerusalem Post 02/04/05)

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