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Sharon, Abbas Plan Friday Meeting - 2003-05-12


Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas are to meet Friday. Word of the meeting came as Israel closed the Gaza Strip, imposing tough new restrictions Monday.

Israeli reports say new intelligence that terror groups were planning more suicide bombings prompted the full closure. It came just a day after Israel lifted its blockade of Gaza and the West Bank.

Visiting U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell had urged Israel to take such good will steps and had also called on Palestinian leaders to rein-in militant groups. Secretary Powell continued his Middle East mission Monday, traveling to Cairo for talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on implementing the internationally-backed “road-map” for peace. Amy Katz has more.

Before traveling to Amman, for talks with Jordanian King Abdullah, Secretary Powell said the time has come to “seize the moment” of opportunity to make peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

He made the comment at a news conference with his Egyptian counterpart, Ahmed Maher, after talks with President Mubarak and other top Egyptian officials.

“Now with Prime Minister Sharon taking some steps, and with the expectation that Prime Minister Sharon and Prime Minister Abbas will meet together face-to-face in the not too distant future, I think that these are hopeful signs, hopeful signs that I hope will put us firmly on the path to peace.”

Mr. Powell noted that Israel has not used the word “accept”, regarding the road-map to peace, which was drafted by the Middle East Quartet—the U-S, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia.

It calls for goodwill concessions on both sides, leading to the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005. The Secretary of State stressed that both sides need to take positive steps toward peace.

On Sunday, Mr. Powell met with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other top officials in Jerusalem. Mr. Sharon is scheduled to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House next week.

Secretary Powell held talks with Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas in Jericho Sunday. The White House says President Bush is willing to meet with Mr. Abbas, although nothing has yet been planned.

Secretary Powell did not meet with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, who has also never been invited to meet with President Bush.