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Sharon to Visit London in Effort to Repair Strained Relations

Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon travels to London Sunday for what is being described as an effort to patch up strained relations. Later this month, Mr. Sharon is also expected to visit Washington for talks with President Bush about Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

The fact that Mr. Sharon is to have a private dinner with Prime Minister Tony Blair at his official residence, 10 Downing Street, is described by some officials as "red carpet" treatment and a sure sign that Britain is eager to patch up relations.

Mr. Sharon was said to have been furious last January when Britain hosted an international conference on Palestinian reforms and neither informed Israel beforehand nor invited Israelis to take part. The conference ended up using a video hookup because Israel refused to let local Palestinian delegates travel to London.

Israel was also offended when British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said earlier this year that the international community used double standards, demanding at that time that Iraq comply with United Nations resolutions, but not demanding that Israel do the same.

Also on the agenda during talks in London will be the implementation of the "road map," the peace plan designed to end almost three years of Israeli-Palestinian violence and eventually bring peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

The "road map," which has the strong backing of the United States, has gotten off to a slow start. The plan lays out specific steps to be taken by Israel and the Palestinians to end violence and to begin negotiating a political settlement to lead to an independent Palestinian state by 2005.

The gains made so far have been modest. Israel has pulled its troops back from areas of Gaza and from the West Bank town of Bethlehem. Palestinian attacks against Israel have dropped off dramatically and the main Palestinian militant groups have agreed to a temporary, unilateral cease-fire.

But, the two sides are now at an impasse over Palestinian demands that Israel free thousands of Palestinian prisoners, and Israeli demands that the Palestinian Authority begin to dismantle militant groups. At the same time, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has come under increasing criticism from within his own Fatah faction over his handling of negotiations with Israel.

Due to the political infighting, Mr. Abbas cancelled a scheduled meeting with Mr. Sharon this week. There are reports that another meeting between the two men could take place next week.

Israeli media are also reporting that Mr. Sharon is expected to visit Washington later this month for talks with President Bush. Reports say Mr. Abbas is also expected to travel to Washington soon.