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Sharon Extends Offer to Meet Palestinian Counterpart - 2003-05-06

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has expressed his willingness to meet with his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas. Mr. Sharon made the offer despite recent violence and without setting down any pre-conditions.

Officials in Mr. Sharon's office say the Prime Minister could meet with Mr. Abbas as early as next week.

The officials said such a meeting could follow the expected visit by Secretary of State, Colin Powell.

Earlier, Mr. Sharon told Israel Radio he would be happy to meet with Mr. Abbas, who was sworn into office last week.

The Israeli leader also expressed optimism about the prospects for renewed peacemaking with the Palestinians.

Mr. Sharon said what he called the strategy of terror has failed and he expressed the hope that the new Palestinian leadership will take a new approach.

His remarks appear to praise Mr. Abbas at the expense of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. Mr. Sharon has shunned Mr. Arafat, accusing him of orchestrating a 31-month-old violent Palestinian uprising against Israel.

Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat hit back at Mr. Sharon.

Mr. Erekat said he does not believe that Mr. Sharon is sincere about making quick progress on a new international roadmap to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The plan envisages an end to the conflict and the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2005.