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Israel's Implementation of 'Road Map'  Will Be True Test, says Palestinian PM - 2003-05-28

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas says he is ready to test Israel's commitment to the latest peace plan for the Middle East, known as the "road map".

Mr. Abbas says that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's true intentions will only become clear when he implements the "road map."

Mr. Abbas made his comments in an interview published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. "Implementation is the only test, as far as I am concerned," he said.

He was reacting to the decision of the Israeli cabinet to give its conditional support to the plan, which calls for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state by 2005.

Mr. Abbas called for Israel to seize an historic opportunity to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

He said Israel must stop the assassination of Palestinian political leaders and the demolition of Palestinian homes, saying it is time to break the cycle of violence and give hope to people on both sides.

He also defended Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

Mr. Abbas said it is difficult to explain to ordinary Palestinians that he can openly negotiate with Israel, while Mr. Arafat remains a virtual prisoner in his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Mr. Arafat has not left Ramallah for more than a year for fear that Israel will not let him return to the West Bank. Most of his headquarters there has been destroyed in a series of Israeli military sieges.

Israel cut off all direct contacts with Mr. Arafat in December 2001, describing him as irrelevant. Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a recent visit to the Mideast, also confirmed that the U.S. government would have no more dealings with Mr. Arafat.

But supporters of Mr. Arafat continue to rally behind the Palestinian leader. A meeting of Fatah, the dominant faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization, declared this week that Mr. Arafat is still the man responsible for peace negotiations with Israel.