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Sharon, Qureia to Meet Next Week - 2004-03-10

Israeli and Palestinian officials say their prime ministers could meet as early as next week.

The meeting would be the first between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Ahmed Qureia since Mr. Qureia became the Palestinian prime minister last October.

Since then, officials from both sides have met several times to prepare for a summit, but have not been able to agree on an agenda. The Haaretz newspaper said on its web site Wednesday that the agenda for the March 16 meeting will be worked out next Sunday, in a discussion between bureau chiefs of the two prime ministers.

Meanwhile, three senior American officials are due in Israel for talks on Thursday with Mr. Sharon on his plans for a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told a news conference in Washington Tuesday that the Bush administration has many questions about the Sharon plan including how the Gaza Strip would be administered once Israel leaves. At the same news conference visiting Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muashar said the Israeli pullout could be a positive development provided Israel coordinate with the Palestinian Authority.

Israel wants Egypt to send its security forces into Gaza but Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told the French daily Le Figaro this week that there should be no direct Egyptian role inside Gaza. He said Egypt could provide assistance along its border with Gaza but that the Palestinian Authority must find a way to take responsibility for security otherwise it will provide what he termed a fertile ground for terrorism.

There are growing fears that an Israeli withdrawal will lead to a violent power struggle between armed Palestinian groups and the Palestinian Authority over control of the territory. Comments this week from Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin suggested that it would be wrong to assume control would fall automatically to the Palestinian Authority. He said the Palestinian Authority should meet with rival factions including Hamas and Islamic Jihad factions to decide the matter.