Sharon and Abbas to meet in May
* Shaath says Gaza withdrawal has ‘paralysed’ world community
JERUSALEM: Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon plan to meet next month in what would be their first encounter in almost three months, officials said on Saturday.
The meeting, likely to be in early May, is set to focus on planning Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied Gaza Strip later this year, sources on both sides said.
The prospect of settler resistance, the possible use of force by Israeli security forces and the likelihood of militant groups wanting to portray the withdrawal as a retreat under fire have created a delicate situation for Israelis and Palestinians.
Right-wing settler leaders and rabbis have called for resistance in one form or another, with some calling on security forces to disobey orders to evict all 8,000 Gaza settlers and four isolated West Bank outposts. Sharon is also expected to announce a delay to the four-week withdrawal - originally planned for late July - until the middle of August.
Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz and Palestinian civil affairs minister Mohammed Dahlan said on Friday that they had set up joint committees to coordinate Israeli and Palestinian sides of the withdrawal. Abbas and Sharon first met at a peace summit in Egypt in February but the honeymoon period has faded in recent weeks after the Israeli leader accused his Palestinian counterpart of failing to crack down on militant groups such as Hamas.
Abbas has denounced an Israeli plan to keep its large settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank, a move that has also drawn US criticism. The meeting is likely to be held before Abbas heads to Washington in mid-May for talks with US President George W Bush, their first summit since Abbas succeeded the late Yasser Arafat at the head of the Palestinian Authority.
During their previous encounter in February in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, the two leaders agreed on a truce aimed at ending more than four years of deadly violence, which has since proved less than watertight. In the latest incident, the Israeli military said a Palestinian had stabbed a soldier guarding the Ganim settlement in the northern West Bank, one of four in the occupied territory set to be evacuated this summer.
Gaza withdrawal: Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal of Jewish settlers from the Gaza strip has “paralysed” the international community, Palestinian deputy prime minister Nabil Shaath said Saturday.
“The Israeli government’s withdrawal from Gaza has really paralysed international opinion about Israel’s expected attempt at building walls of separation and isolation of Jerusalem,” Shaath said in Jakarta. “Israel is claiming that it needs international acquiescence in order to overcome the opposition of the extreme right-wing that is opposed to withdrawal from Gaza, but Israel has been delaying its withdrawal from Gaza to give itself more time to start settlements in the West Bank,” he told journalists at the Asia-Africa summit.
Sharon is committed to the evacuation, which will see the removal of all troops and more than 8,000 Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip along with several hundred from the northern West Bank later this year. Shaath said that he had expressed “extreme concern” to the co-chairs of the Asia-Africa summit - the South African President Thabo Mbeki and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono - over the limited nature of the Israeli withdrawal. afp