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Sharon Optimistic About Peace; Violence Continues in Gaza


Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has sounded a note of optimism about peace prospects in the coming year provided Palestinians stop violence against Israel. Meanwhile, an Israeli incursion in the Gaza Strip has killed six Palestinians.

Speaking at an academic conference Thursday night in the Israeli coastal city of Herzliya, Mr. Sharon sounded a note of optimism about what the future holds for Israelis and Palestinians. And, for the first time he said that he wants to coordinate his disengagement plan with the Palestinians.

Previously, the prime minister had proposed a unilateral pullout of all Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and four in the West Bank.

He told the gathering, "in light of the new opportunities and potential of a new Palestinian leadership, Israel will be prepared to coordinate various elements relating to our disengagement plan with the future Palestinian government, a government which is ready and able to take responsibility for the areas, which we leave."

Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat, who is in charge of negotiations with Israel, said the speech contained nothing new. A spokesman for the Palestinian militant group, Hamas, called it "a declaration of war against the Palestinian people."

Palestinian man wounded in Gaza
Meanwhile, Israeli troops raided the southern Gaza Strip on Friday.

The raid came several hours after an Israel Air Force helicopter gunship fired a missile at a Gaza Strip workshop, which the army said was used by Palestinian militants to store munitions, destroying it but causing no casualties.

Palestinian witnesses said the target was a carpentry shop in the Rafah refugee camp on Gaza's border with Egypt.

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