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Sharon Could Meet with Palestinian Counterpart Tuesday - 2003-05-26

Israeli and Palestinian sources said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon could meet with his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, as early as Tuesday. It would be the second meeting between the two leaders in just more than a week, this time following Israel's endorsement of the so-called "road map" peace plan.

Mr. Sharon said he will make every effort to push the roadmap forward, as he prepares for a second round of talks with Prime Minister Abbas.

His comments followed the Israeli cabinet's conditional endorsement of the plan, which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2005.

Mr. Sharon said the decision had not been easy and he still had doubts, but he added that Israel must give the plan a chance to succeed.

At the same time, his Cabinet also made it clear the Israeli government would never accept the entry of Palestinian refugees to areas that are part of the Jewish state.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said it would mean the end of Israel if millions of Palestinian refugees were granted entry.

The decision has angered the Palestinian president, Yasser Arafat. A spokesman for Mr. Arafat said Israel should have followed the example of the Palestinians and accepted the Roadmap without conditions.

Despite these differences, the two sides appear ready to maintain contacts at the highest level, as evidenced by the plans for another meeting between Mr. Sharon and Mr. Abbas.

The United States has also welcomed Israel's approval of the Roadmap to peace, describing it as a positive and important step.

Western diplomats say U.S. President George W. Bush may soon hold a summit with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, possibly in Jordan.