Palestinian leader to meet Sharon for talks

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The Independent Online

The Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, is expected to meet his Palestinian counterpart, Ahmed Qureia, probably within 10 days, the first talks on moving the peace process forward in two months.

The Israeli Foreign Minister, Silvan Shalom, said yesterday the meeting would follow Mr Sharon's return from a trip to Italy next week.

Mr Qureia was finally confirmed as Prime Minister by the Palestinian parliament on Wednesday, resolving, at least for the time being, months of power struggles with the Palestinian President, Yasser Arafat.

Mr Qureia has announced an ambitious programme that includes a ceasefire and an international peace conference. He said: "We want a meeting that produces results ... to alleviate the suffering of our people and open a horizon so we can have a real peace."

Mr Shalom said he had prepared a "positive agenda" ... "meant to ease on the Palestinians and the Israelis".

Five months ago, Mr Sharon and Mr Qureia's predecessor, Abu Mazen, stood side by side at the Aqaba summit and pledged to implement the US-backed road-map peace plan. But little has been achieved since, and the US, with its mind on Iraq, appears disengaged from the peace process again.

Abu Mazen, formally known as Mahmoud Abbas, persuaded the militant factions to sign up to a ceasefire that held for six weeks over the summer. That unravelled in yet another cycle of killings which began when Israel, accusing him of not doing enough to dismantle militant groups, resumed its policy of assassinating militant leaders. Mr Qureia wants Israel to sign up to a ceasefire, though it is far from clear whether Mr Sharon would do so.

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