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Sharon and Abbas Exchange Peace Pledges - 2003-07-01

The Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers have met in Jerusalem for talks on implementing the so-called "road map" to peace. VOA's Larry James reports from Jerusalem on the meeting, the third face-to-face encounter between the two leaders since efforts to launch the peace plan began last month.

In a symbolic appearance in front of the Israeli prime minister's office, the two men stood before the world media and spoke of their commitment and desire for peace.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the current peace efforts present the Israeli and Palestinian people with a new opportunity. "In the name of the entire Jewish people, we have no war with you," said the Israeli leader. "We do not want to conquer you. We do not want to oppress you. We would like to live with you in peace side by side as good neighbors."

Mr. Sharon said he is ready to make the painful concessions necessary for peace. He said one of the issues before them is how the Palestinians fight terror.

Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas said that Palestinians are also looking for an end to conflict and violence. He said the only path to a solution is through negotiation. He had this message for the Israeli and Palestinian people: "Every day without an agreement is a wasted day. Every life that is wasted is a human tragedy. Enough suffering. Enough killing. Let us go forward with bravery, without hesitation, towards peace," said Mr. Abbas.

The two sides have taken the first steps outlined in the "road map."

Israeli troops have pulled out of parts of the Gaza Strip and are expected to withdraw from the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Wednesday. Palestinian authorities have assumed security responsibilities in areas the Israelis pulled out of.

Prime Minister Abbas has also secured a ceasefire agreement from the main Palestinian militant groups.

But much remains to be done. Israel is insisting that the militants be disarmed and their organizations dismantled, something that will be politically difficult for Mr. Abbas to do. The Palestinians want an end to targeted attacks against militants, incursions into Palestinian areas and the release of prisoners.

Resolving these issues is part of the initial process spelled out in the "road map" that envisions the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.