Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have declared a formal end to more than four years of violence, renewing promises that the peace talks will get back on track. The cease-fire agreement was announced at a summit in Egypt Tuesday.
Mister Sharon and Mister Abbas smiled as they leaned across a table to shake hands at the meeting in Sharm el-Sheik. Mister Abbas described what he called a new opportunity for restoring the long-stalled Middle East peace process, as he declared an end to the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation.
Moments later, Mister Sharon said Israel will stop all military activity in the Palestinian territories, and said he hopes President Abbas will lead his people to statehood. Mister Sharon invited the Palestinian leader for talks at his ranch in southern Israel, and Mister Abbas accepted.
During opening comments at the summit, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said the truce marks the first time in four years that he sees a significant possibility for movement toward what he calls a "durable peace."
That sentiment was echoed by Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. "I hope the summit will be the first in a series of summits," said Mr. Erekat.
Gideon Meir, an Israeli Foreign Ministry official, said Israel will accept the fact that, in the immediate future, the Palestinian Authority will not actively crack down on militant groups. But he said the Palestinians must make a long-term effort to do so, otherwise those groups could derail the peace process.
Tuesday's summit is the highest-level meeting between the two sides since the intifada erupted in September of 2000, after the collapse of the peace process. More than 3,000 Palestinians and nearly 1,000 Israelis have been killed in the violence.