Thu, Feb 10, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Sharon, Abbas declare end to violence

INTERIM TRUCE Ariel Sharon went further than expected and called off all military activity, but the wild card remains militant groups who may follow their own agendas

THE GUARDIAN AND AFP , SHARM EL-SHEIKH, EGYPT AND JERUSALEM

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, right, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pose together at a summit at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Tuesday.

PHOTO: EPA

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Tuesday announced an unqualified end to all Israeli military attacks on the Palestinians as part of a historic ceasefire that formally ends more than four years of brutal intifada, suicide bombings and the destruction of occupied towns.

Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas offered separate but inextricably linked declarations of an end to violence at a summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. The declarations open the way for Hamas and its allies to make an interim truce permanent and announce an end to their war on Israel.

Although Israel shied away from calling the deal a ceasefire, preferring to describe it as an "understanding," Sharon went further than had been expected, declaring a total end to military action under pressure from the US and Arab neighbors not to undermine Abbas' efforts to end the conflict that has claimed more than 4,500 lives.

"We agreed that all Palestinians will stop all acts of violence against all Israelis everywhere and in parallel, Israel will cease all its military activity against all Palestinians anywhere," Sharon said. "We have an opportunity to disengage from the path of blood which has been forced on us ... For the first time in a long time, there exists in our region hope for a better future for our children and grandchildren."

He said Israel would transfer security control of West Bank cities to the Palestinians and implement other "confidence building" measures, including the release of hundreds of prisoners.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip sounded a warning by saying they would have to talk to Abbas before deciding whether the Israeli declaration met their demands for guarantees of a comprehensive ceasefire. But as Sharon went further than expected, Palestinian officials said the armed Islamist groups had no grounds for backing away from their agreement with Abbas to end their armed struggle and enter the political process.

Abbas described the Israeli and Palestinian declarations at the summit, hosted by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, as "the beginning of a new era of peace and security."

"It is a basic step which has its own momentum in bringing peace and stability and trust between two peoples," Abbas said. "We are committed to the peace process. The time has come for the Palestinian people to achieve the independence of our people, to enjoy peace ... Dialogue will replace weapons and shells."

But Sharon rebuffed the Palestinian leadership's calls for a swift return to political negotiations by saying the two sides "must move forward cautiously," and he pressed Abbas to act "determinedly to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure."

"Only by crushing terror and violence will we build peace," Sharon said.

A senior Israeli foreign ministry official, Gideon Meir, said the ceasefire would only evolve into a political process if Abbas removed the threat of a resumption of violence by disarming Hamas and its allies, a move the Islamist groups say would be provocative.

"The short term will be a ceasefire in fact. But Israel cannot see a ceasefire as a long-term arrangement because Israelis will see a threat of violence always hanging over their heads. It's important that the terrorist organizations don't have the power of veto over negotiations," Meir said.

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