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Sharon's Victory a Blow to Peace Process, say Palestinian Officials - 2003-01-29

Palestinian officials say the victory of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Likud Party in Tuesday's election is a blow to peace efforts.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat says Mr. Sharon's election means there will likely be no progress toward ending the current Israeli-Palestinian fighting. "I think we are heading toward the maintenance of the status quo, as far as the frozen peace process is concerned, and further deterioration and escalation on the ground," he said. "I don't see any indication that the peace process will be revived or be put back on track."

Relations between Israel and the Palestinians reached their lowest point during Mr. Sharon's first term in office.

In December 2001, Mr. Sharon's Cabinet banned any direct contacts with Mr. Arafat, holding him accountable for failing to prevent the dramatic rise in Palestinian terrorism against Israeli citizens.

Palestinian Planning Minister, Nabil Shaath, believes that the situation may get even worse in the months ahead.

But Mr. Shaath also expressed the hope that the international community might refocus its attention more forcefully on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, once the issue of Iraq has been resolved. "Peace is much more valuable [than] to be decided just by Israeli bullets or Israeli ballots," said Nabil Shaath. "There is an international factor that it is totally frozen today that might be re-activated again once the Iraqi crisis is over."

Meanwhile, Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak telephoned Mr. Sharon Wednesday to congratulate him on his election victory. Mr. Sharon's office says the two leaders talked about the need to revive the peace process, and Mr. Mubarak invited Mr. Sharon to Cairo for the first time.