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Sharon Expected to Broaden Scope of Cease-fire - 2003-05-29

The Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers are to hold talks Thursday, as part of preparations for a summit next week with President George W. Bush. Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, is expected to broaden the scope of a proposed cease-fire when he meets Thursday with his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas.

Under the plan, Mr. Sharon will agree to withdraw troops from parts of the West Bank as well as the northern Gaza Strip. In return for the pull-back, he is demanding that the Palestinian Authority agree to halt attacks by militant groups against Israelis.

The meeting will be the second in as many weeks between the two leaders.

Officials on both sides said the two men would meet late Thursday in Jerusalem but the exact venue had not been disclosed for security reasons.

In their first meeting, Mr. Abbas reportedly turned down Mr. Sharon's offer for the Palestinian Authority to resume security control over the northern Gaza Strip. Mr. Abbas said he wanted Israel to first endorse the U.S. backed "road map to peace".

The Israeli cabinet's decision on Sunday to give its conditional support to the plan paved the way for a second round of talks.

At the same time, Mr. Abbas made it clear in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz that he does not recognize Israel's 14 reservations about the "road map". Both leaders are under pressure to show progress in their discussions before a summit next week in Jordan with President Bush.

The U.S. administration has reportedly put both sides on notice it wants them to take steps toward ending nearly three years of violence, in order to create a positive atmosphere ahead of the summit.