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Israel to Halt Military Action Against Palestinians if Calm Continues, says Sharon


Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says Israel will not be the first to launch attacks or raids on Palestinian militants so long as the situation remains calm and there are no provocations. The promise was made during a period of relative quiet between the two sides that has prevailed since the death of Yasser Arafat.

Speaking to Israeli newspaper editors in Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Sharon said that while Israel would not be the first to strike, it would also not stand idly by if it had information that Palestinian militants were planning an attack.

He also said his government stands ready to help the new Palestinian leadership, due to be elected January 9 and he said he would coordinate with the Palestinians Israel's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip next year.

Mr. Sharon said "should there be a Palestinian Authority leadership which will choose to fight terror and dismantle its infrastructure," we are ready to help them." He also said the Palestinian leadership can prove its own good intentions by maintaining peace and quiet.

There has been a marked drop in violence between Israel and the Palestinians for the better part of a month, since the death of Yasser Arafat.

Mr. Sharon and new PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas have also called for resuming peace talks.

Mr. Sharon maintains certain preconditions for negotiations. He says there should be an end to violence and incitement by the Palestinians along with a halt to anti-Israeli bias in Palestinian media. The Israeli leader said that since he signaled his desire to resume direct talks he has seen positive signs.

Mr. Sharon said "Since I turned to the Palestinians, the incitement has dropped."

Palestinian officials confirm that Mr. Abbas gave instructions earlier this week to the state-run radio and television outlets to cease broadcasting what he termed "hateful programming."

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