Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas met to discuss the U.S.-backed “road map” to peace in the Middle East, in advance of a planned summit with U.S. President George W. Bush next week. But just hours before the two Prime Ministers were to meet, there was new violence on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Amy Katz has more on the day’s developments.
Israeli soldiers shot and killed a wanted member of the Islamic militant group Hamas in a Gaza refugee camp Thursday. A member of the Islamic Jihad militant group was also killed in the West Bank town of Jenin.
Meanwhile, on the West Bank, Jewish settlers established a new outpost near the Shima settlement. At the same time, Prime Minister Sharon was meeting with the Governor of the western U.S. State of Colorado and Prime Minister Abbas was meeting with New Zealand’s Foreign Minister.
All of this in the hours before the face-to-face talks between Mr. Sharon and Mr. Abbas; their second meeting in two weeks and the first since Israel agreed to the “road map” peace plan. The talks are aimed at laying the groundwork for President Bush’s meeting with the two leaders in Jordan next week.
In an interview with an Israeli newspaper, published Thursday, Mr. Abbas said he expects to have a cease-fire in place with Hamas by next week and he said he would also hold talks with Islamic Jihad. Both groups have claimed responsibility for numerous attacks against Israelis.
Mr. Sharon is expected to demand a crackdown on Palestinian militants. He is also likely to offer to pull his troops out of parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip allowing Palestinian security forces to take control of those areas.
In Washington Wednesday, National Security advisor Condoleezza Rice indicated that the President’s direct involvement in the Middle East peace process hinges on progress between the two sides in the coming days.
CONDOLEEZA RICE, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR
“We’re watching the circumstances; we’re watching to see if the parties are moving forward. It is, after all, the case that the parties have to be dedicated and devoted and moving forward.”
Ms. Rice said the White House believes that in the current climate a summit is likely to be, as she put it, “very helpful.” She added that President Bush will assess the situation, but he believes he will be able to go forward.