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Sharon Tells Russians He May Meet Qorei Soon

Sharon May Meet Qorei "within days", Lobbies in Moscow against "roadmap"

An official with the Israeli delegation in Russia said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon may meet his Palestinian counterpart Ahmed Qorei "within days."

The official who asked not to be named said "Contacts have been established ahead of such a meeting, but that the Israeli side has to wait and see if Qorei succeeds in forming his new government and how things evolve.

The meeting would be the first between Sharon and Qorei as Palestinian prime minister. Israeli defence minister Shaul Mofaz on Monday has confirmed to have held recent talks with Palestinian officials but refused to say with whom and give details on the talks. Earlier a palestinian source said Mofaz had met last week Palestinian finance minister Salam Fayyad.

Paradoxically Sharon on Monday meets with President Vladimir Putin to try and convince Russia to drop efforts to turn the so-called Middle East "roadmap" to peace plan into a binding UN resolution. For his part, Palestinian chairman Yasser Arafat says that Palestinian Authority "is ready" to speak with Israeli officials. After meeting Greek officials in his Ramallah headquarters, Arafat was asked if any meeting had taken place between Israeli or Palestinian officials recently.

Arafat responded, "Until now officially no, not yet. But we are ready!". Arafat was responding to comments by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon saying he would welcome talks with his Palestinian counterpart, Ahmed Qorei, who was installed in office in September.

Arafat also formally asked Qorei to form a government, and the latter accepted. Palestinian officials said they hoped the work could be completed in a few days. Meanwhile, Palestinian MPs on Monday elected a new parliament speaker to succeed Ahmed Qorei, who had to step down a month ago when he was appointed to head the emergency government.

Rafiq al-Natshe became the new head of the Palestinian Legislative Council after obtaining the vote of 53 out of the 70 deputies who attended the session in Ramallah. His rival for the post Burhan Jarraf only mustered 10 votes. Nine of the MPs who took part in the election did so by video-conference from the Gaza Strip after failing to obtain the necessary permits from the Israeli authorities.

Natshe, who was supported by Qorei, vowed to continue the reforms process and reaffirmed his attachment to the rule of law in his inaugural speech to parliament. The 69- year-old served as agriculture minister in Mahmud Abbas's government earlier this year and as labour minister from 1998 to 2002.

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