Sharon-Abbas summit to get peace process back on track
* Israel, Palestinians make progress on Gaza-Egypt border security
JERUSALEM: Israel’s foreign minister said Saturday his country is keen to relaunch peace talks with the Palestinians, and that he hoped a summit tentatively set for next week would get the ball rolling again.
But Silvan Shalom said the Palestinians must dismantle militant groups as a first step.
“This summit is not an ordinary get-together,” he told public radio. “We are doing everything possible for it to be successful and to lead to the relaunch of negotiations with a view to applying the roadmap. “However, we are not waiving the first phase of this plan, which demands the dismantlement of Palestinian terrorist organisations, including (the radical Islamic group) Hamas,” he said.
The roadmap, unveiled in 2003 by the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, charted a course for an end to violence and the creation of a Palestinian state living in peace with Israel. It has been languishing ever since amid continuing unrest and mutual recriminations.
Shalom rejected claims by the Palestinian Authority that it does not have the wherewithal to take on militant groups.
“I do not believe that these (security) services lack ammunition. Their problem is that they have still not taken the strategic decision to disarm the terrorist groups. “If they were to take that decision and if calm were to prevail, then we are ready for an important round of confidence (boosting) measures.” Although Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly called on armed factions to stop carrying weapons in public, powerful militias have so far flouted calls to disarm.
Shalom’s comments followed a report Friday that Israel will consider allowing the Palestinian Authority to buy weapons so that police can better patrol the Gaza Strip. The change of heart is based on US pressure and an Israeli security assessment that the Palestinian Authority needs the arms in order to clamp down on Hamas, a powerful group, Yediot Aharonot daily said.
In that vein, he said: “For us it is clear that this organisation cannot participate in the Palestinian legislative elections” scheduled for January 25. At the same time, he claimed that “weapons, including anti-tank rockets, were passing freely across the Egyptian border into the Gaza Strip since Israel withdrew from the territory” on September 12 after a 38-year occupation.
“We expect the Egyptian forces to become more effective in stopping this smuggling,” he added. Under an agreement with Israel, Cairo has dispatched a lightly armed force to patrol Egypt’s shared border with Gaza.
Border security: Israel and the Palestinians have made some progress on new security arrangements for the Gaza-Egypt border, Palestinian officials said Saturday.
A border deal, brokered by international mediator James Wolfensohn, would allow Gazans relatively free movement for the first time and is seen as crucial for the economic development of the impoverished coastal strip. However, the two sides appeared to remain deadlocked on other issues, including the release of Palestinian prisoners and an Israeli troop withdrawal from additional West Bank towns.
The Palestinians seek the release of all prisoners who have served more than 20 years in Israeli prisons, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Saturday. agencies