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Sharon, Abbas Agree on Initial Measures Toward Peace - 2003-05-30

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas met his Israeli counterpart, Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem Thursday evening and both sides are describing the talks as 'positive.' The two leaders agreed on some initial steps to ease tensions as they lay the groundwork for their discussions next week with President Bush.

Mr. Sharon said he would ease restrictions on Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza and release some Palestinian prisoners. He also repeated an offer to withdraw his troops from some areas if the Palestinians are ready to take over security there. At the same time, he again demanded that the Palestinian leadership move decisively to dismantle militant groups and to end violence.

Mr. Abbas has said he is working on the security situation and that he is close to arranging a cease-fire agreement with the militant group Hamas. This was the second meeting between Mr. Abbas and Mr. Sharon in less than two weeks. Both men were under pressure to come up with something to bring to the table when they meet President Bush in Aqaba, Jordan, next week.

Mr. Bush will want to see a sign that the "road map" for Middle East peace is beginning to be implemented. That would signal some hope for an end to violence and a resumption of negotiations.