Tue, Jul 22, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Hope for the future as summit ends

MIDDLE EAST While no concrete results were achieved in talks between the Palestinian and Israeli premiers, both sides were able to slowly move forward


Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, left, meets Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, right, at Arafat's office in the West Bank town of Ramallah on Sunday. Prior to his meeting with Arafat, Abbas met for two hours with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.


Palestinian and Israeli premiers held an inconclusive summit ahead of their separate trips to the White House, but each side indicated willingness to move toward the other -- the Palestinians by outlawing violent groups and the Israelis by hinting at new flexibility over release of prisoners.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Sunday reissued an earlier decree outlawing incitement to violence and advocating change by use of force, a move aimed at militant groups and anchoring a shaky ceasefire in Palestinian law.

Sunday's meeting, the fourth in Jerusalem between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, produced no concrete results.

Palestinians were hoping for a firm Israeli pledge to release prisoners, and Israelis demanded a Palestinian crackdown on militant groups, and both were disappointed.

Israel acknowledged that there has been a decrease in terror attacks and incitement to violence since the main Palestinian groups declared a ceasefire on June 29, but Raanan Gissin, a Sharon aide, said it was too early to make significant gestures toward the Palestinians, like removing roadblocks that have crippled Palestinian life for nearly three years.

"We want to be very cautious in the steps that we make," he told reporters, complaining that since the truce, Palestinian militant groups have been rearming and regrouping. He warned that "the whole process [could] be disrupted by one renegade terrorist act."

Underscoring the fragility of Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, a 64-year old Israeli man was moderately wounded late Sunday in a stabbing attack in Jerusalem. Israel Police spokesman Gil Kleiman said authorities were treating the incident as a probable terrorist attack.

Also on Sunday a Palestinian man was killed when he activated an explosive charge at a passing Israeli patrol near the West Bank city of Jenin, military sources said. No Israelis were injured in the incident.

In what appeared to be an effort to satisfy Israel's demands for action against the militants, the decree issued by Arafat bans "incitement that encourages the use of violence that harms the relations with foreign countries" and says violators would be judged according to Palestinian law.

In language that seemed directed at militant groups, it also bans "illegal organizations that encourage violence and arouse the public to bring about change through force" and "incitement that encourages the violation of the agreements signed by the PLO and foreign countries."

That appeared to be a reference to the road map, and making violation of the truce a punishable offense.

Sharon and Abbas met for two hours at Sharon's official residence. Sharon's office said afterward that he had pledged to consider Palestinian requests for additional prisoner releases, further Israeli withdrawals from Palestinian towns and the dismantling of Israeli roadblocks in the West Bank and Gaza.

Palestinian lawmaker Saeb Erekat said the delegation called the meeting "a disappointment" because action was delayed until after the meetings in Washington. Abbas will meet US President George W. Bush on July 25, while Sharon sees Bush July 29.

Bush is expected to press for progress on the "road map" peace plan, which calls for an end to 33 months of violence and leads through three stages to creation of a Palestinian state.

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