Sharon, Abbas summit in second week of February
* Israel says it is ready to make significant concessions to Palestinians
RAMALLAH: Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will hold their first summit during the second week of February, a senior Palestinian official said Saturday, in what would be the highest-level contacts between the two sides in more than a year and a half.
Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz and Mohammed Dahlan, a top Palestinian security official, were scheduled to meet later Saturday to help prepare for the summit, officials said. The talks are expected to focus on an Israeli military pullback from five West Bank cities.
The summit would cap a series of recent steps by Israel and the Palestinians to end more than four years of fighting and resume peace talks. Differences over the agenda remain, however, raising questions about what will come out of the gathering. Hassan Abu Libdeh, the Palestinian Cabinet secretary, said he expects the summit to take place within two weeks. “The date will be set according to the results of the meetings this week between Palestinian and Israeli officials,” he said.
One Palestinian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the meeting would take place on Feb. 8. Israeli officials said nothing has yet been confirmed. The summit would be the first gathering of Israeli and Palestinian leaders since Sharon and Abbas signed the “road map” peace plan in June 2003. Abbas was the Palestinian prime minister at the time.
The plan, which aims to establish an independent Palestinian state, quickly fell into disarray amid continued fighting and violations by both sides.
Concessions to Palestinians: Israeli security officials are ready to make significant concessions to the new Palestinian leadership to promote efforts to end more than four years of fighting, a top Defence Ministry official said on Saturday.
The comments by Amos Gilad, a senior adviser to Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz, came ahead of a flurry of meetings meant to pave the way for a summit of the Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
“The entire defence establishment is in full agreement that there is now an opportunity that must be taken advantage of,” Gilad told Israel Radio. “All necessary steps, whether it will be security concessions that will reduce levels of friction, we will show tremendous flexibility toward every subject on the agenda to try and enhance chances.” ap