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Sharon Says He Expects to Meet Jordan's King Abdullah - 2004-03-09


Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says he expects to meet with Jordan's King Abdullah in the next few days.

Speaking at his Jerusalem residence at a reception marking the founding of a joint Israeli-Jordanian desert science center, Mr. Sharon said he has spoken with King Abdullah and expects to meet with him soon.

The two have not met since last June when they joined U.S. President George Bush at a ceremony in Aqaba, Jordan, to launch the internationally-backed road map for peace. The initiative stalled almost immediately as the region descended deeper into the cycle of violence that began more than three years ago.

Israel's Army Radio reported that, while Israel has been working to arrange a Sharon-Abdullah meeting, the Jordanians have been reluctant to agree to it. Relations between Israel and Jordan have been severely strained in recent months over Israel's construction of the barrier Israel is building in the West Bank. Jordan has a large Palestinian population which denounces the barrier as an Israeli land grab and an attempt to unilaterally define the borders of a future Palestinian state. Israel says the barrier is needed to stop suicide bombers from attacking Israelis.

Meanwhile, Palestinian witnesses say Israel soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian woman and wounded a photographer for the French news agency Agence France Presse in a raid Tuesday in the West Bank city of Jenin. They said the 23-year-old woman was shot as she watched from her rooftop as Israeli armored vehicles moved into the neighborhood.

The Israeli military confirmed what it said was an exchange of fire during their operation but could not confirm the death.

Agence France Presse said one of its photographers was wounded in the leg but it was not clear whether it was Israeli or Palestinian gunfire that struck him.

Israel also lifted the closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip that it imposed last Thursday as a precautionary measure in advance of the Jewish holiday of Purim. The Israeli military routinely imposes such restrictions because Palestinian suicide bombers have attacked public gatherings during holiday celebrations.

The easing of restrictions will allow thousands of Palestinians to return to their jobs in Israel, including in the Erez Industrial Zone in Gaza, which has been the scene of a suicide bombing and attacks against Israeli troops in recent months.

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