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Israeli Official: Palestinian PM Now Ready to Meet Sharon - 2004-01-29


According to an Israeli official, Palestinian Prime Minister, Ahmed Qureia has offered to meet immediately and unconditionally with his Israeli counterpart, Ariel Sharon. The official says that was the message conveyed Thursday by visiting senior U.S. envoys.

Israeli officials say they have been told that after months of delay, Mr. Qureia is now ready for a summit with Mr. Sharon.

The officials say they heard this from senior State Department officials John Wolf and David Satterfield during a meeting with Israeli Defense Minister, Shaul Mofaz on Thursday. They met with Mr. Qureia on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Sharon has been saying for months he has been ready to meet with Mr. Qureia, but until now the Palestinian leadership has rejected his offer.

Palestinian officials have maintained that a summit will not be useful unless there are guarantees that it will result in decisions to improve living conditions for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The U.S. officials appealed for an end to violence, but their visit was greeted by an upsurge of bloodshed.

As they met with Mr. Mofaz on Thursday in Tel Aviv, a Palestinian suicide bomber set off explosives on a bus in Jerusalem, killing at least 10 people and wounding dozens more.

The attack came one day after Israeli forces shot dead at least nine Palestinians during gun-battles with militants in the Gaza Strip.

Mr. Qureia condemned the Palestinian suicide bus bombing but says Israel's raid into Gaza showed it is also guilty of escalating the conflict.

"This raid against Nusseirat [Palestinian refugee] camp in Gaza, this crime shows bad intention from the Israeli side," he said. Mr. Qureia added that the way to end the violence is through a return to negotiations.

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