Meeting on peaceful grounds

Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas plan to attend a summit in Egypt next week in an effort to make "tangible progress on the Palestinian track."

Published February 3, 2005 3:47PM (EST)

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the new Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, are to hold their first summit next week in Egypt, the highest-level talks between the two sides for more than four years. They had already agreed to meet, and Wednesday Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak offered to host the summit at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

There is growing international pressure to secure a comprehensive cease-fire by Palestinian armed groups and an Israeli commitment to curtail its attacks. Mubarak's office said he had made the offer in the light of the delicacy of the present stage of the peace process, and "in an endeavor to seize the auspicious opportunity to achieve tangible progress on the Palestinian track." King Abdullah of Jordan will also be present.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said his authority wanted the summit to secure Israeli commitments that would help establish a comprehensive cease-fire and end more than four years of intifada.

Abbas has won the commitment of Hamas and Islamic Jihad to end their war on Israel and switch to political tactics if Israel agrees to halt its attacks on the occupied territories, end assassinations and other killings, and abandon its pursuit of wanted Palestinian fighters.

Israel has responded by promising to meet "quiet with quiet" and has taken steps to reduce raids and killings in Palestinian areas. It said it would free some prisoners and hand over responsibility for security in five West Bank towns. But Israel has been unwilling to commit itself to a mutual cease-fire with groups it regards as terrorist organizations.

The fatal shooting of a 10-year-old girl in southern Gaza on Monday increased the tension. Hamas blamed the Israeli army, fired mortars into Jewish settlements and threatened to abandon the truce called to let Abbas try to get a deal with Israel.

Wednesday an Israeli Defense Ministry official, Amos Gilad, said the two sides had agreed to establish a panel to review Israel's list of wanted Palestinian fighters and to remove the names of those who committed themselves to ending attacks. "We have to include all the fugitives who stop being active," he said. "There is an opportunity here."

Mubarak's invitation was made at a hastily arranged meeting Wednesday between Sharon and the Egyptian intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, who held talks with Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Cairo on Tuesday. His sudden trip to Jerusalem is thought to have been prompted by new promises made by the groups.

Abbas has accepted an invitation to visit Iran, which backs the hard-line militants, but no date has been set.

By Chris McGreal

MORE FROM Chris McGreal

Related Topics ------------------------------------------