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Palestine Seeks Meeting Between Qurei & Sharon

PNA Seeks ‘Concrete Results’ for a Successful Qurei – Sharon Meeting

‘Hopefully, There Will Be Cease-fire,’ Egyptian Envoy Says

The Palestine National Authority (PNA) on Monday said that dates have not been set yet neither for a meeting between Palestinian and Israeli premiers Ahmad Qurei and Ariel Sharon nor for Prime Minister Qurei’s meeting with Palestinian factions in Gaza, amid optimistic speculations that the mission of the Egyptian mediator Omar Sulaiman might culminate in a Palestinian – Israeli ceasefire agreement.

Speaking to Jewish leaders in Italy on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he would meet his Palestinian counterpart, Ahmed Qurei, "in the coming days." It would be their first summit meeting since Qurei took office more than a month ago.

"I think that in the next few days there will be a meeting between the Israeli prime minister and the Palestinian one to resume the dialogue between them," Sharon said on the first of a three-day visit to Italy.

"I hope that soon we can resume the dialogue with our neighbors. If the dialogue does not resume it is not our fault," Sharon said during a meeting with leaders of the Italian Jewish community.

Palestinians reacted with caution. One official said a positive outcome had to be assured — reflecting failed summits between Sharon and Qurei's predecessor — and another said the Palestinian premier wanted to work out truce terms with Palestinian factions before a summit with the Israelis.

Sharon met with Qurei's predecessor, Mahmoud Abbas, four times, but Palestinians complained that there were few concrete results from the meetings. Abbas resigned Sept. 6 in frustration with Israel, creating a vacuum that was filled only when Qurei's Cabinet was approved by the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) on Nov. 12.

Qurei has said he would be prepared to meet Sharon, but only if a positive outcome was assured. The Palestinians demand that Israel remove roadblocks and other restrictions that have crippled Palestinian life during the conflict.

Palestinian Cabinet Secretary General Hassan Abu Libdeh told Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam Tuesday that a date for such a meeting has not been set yet and “any such meeting should lead to concrete results” and should not be “a public relations” ploy.

“The meeting of the (Palestinian) prime minister with the Israeli premier must take place after meeting several requirements, at least to make a difference” in the siege, closures, assassinations, detentions and house demolitions, which the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) are imposing and committing against Palestinian people.

Similarly Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator with Israel, told The Associated Press that no date had been set for the summit meeting. "This meeting needs to be well prepared," he said, "but we are not against meeting with Sharon."

Erekat, meanwhile, asserted that all efforts must be exerted to "accomplish the Egyptian mission," adding "the key of success lies with Israel's commitment and respect to the concept of reciprocity."

Erekat was referring to the truce efforts that continued Monday in the West Bank city of Ramallah by the Egyptian security chief Omar Suleiman, who met Monday with Israeli officials as well as Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and PM Qurei.

A cease-fire is seen as an essential first step toward progress along the "roadmap," which leads to a Palestinian state in 2005.

Suleiman arrived earlier on Monday in Ramallah.

Asked about truce prospects as he left Arafat's office, Suleiman said: "Hopefully, there is a cease-fire and dialogue and many good things."

Suleiman earlier held talks with Israel officials and the US ambassador to Israel, Dan Kurtzer.

Suleiman, who helped broker a previous truce known as the "hudna", gave no further details but sources had earlier said he was expected to float proposals, which would first see anti-Israeli occupation resistance factions such as Hamas declare a truce with Israel.

That could then set in train a process culminating in talks between the Palestinian leadership and Israel, and a possible invitation by the United States for Qurei to travel to Washington, the sources added.

US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is understood to have discussed the prospects of a new ceasefire with Egyptian officials during a visit to Cairo last week.

Suleiman told the Palestinians that Israeli leaders, while not giving any assurances, appeared receptive, Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said after meeting with the intelligence chief.

"He did say that there is an opportunity that must be taken advantage of. There is a positive atmosphere and a new language," Shaath said. "He told us that he is optimistic."

Palestinian officials had said Qurei wanted to negotiate a cease-fire with Palestinian factions first, and then he would meet Sharon.

Nabil Shaath said one of Suleiman's aides, Mohsen al-Buheiri, would travel to Gaza City on Wednesday where he would hold talks with representatives from Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad.

Suleiman invited all the Palestinian groups for talks next Monday in Cairo, Shaath said. "Today's meeting was positive, but there is a need for further talks," Shaath added.

Sources close to Qurei earlier said the premier himself is expected to travel to Gaza City later this week for his own meeting with leaders of the factions.

Qurei himself has expressed optimism he can succeed in securing a mutual ceasefire, which he has made the top priority of his new government.

"We will reach a ceasefire agreement and start negotiations (with Israel) to end the conflict and live as good neighbors," he told Sunday's Washington Post.

Qaddura Fares, a minister without portfolio in Qurei's new government, said he believed the factions were ready for a truce but only if it is reciprocated by Israel.

"We want a ceasefire but we don't want another hudna like last time," he said in reference to the unilateral truce called by the armed groups on June 29, which collapsed after seven weeks when IOF extra-judicially assassinated a top Hamas political leader.

One official close to Qurei told AFP that officials from Arafat's ruling Fatah movement held talks recently with Hamas leaders in Gaza.

"Hamas are ready for such a ceasefire," the source added.

A draft of a truce agreement is circulating among activists of Fatah movement, Palestinians told AFP late Monday. The draft, initialed by Qurei, calls for a halt to Palestinian attacks against Israelis if Israel stops its military operations, the said, adding that it is still under discussion.

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