Sharon and Abbas to meet in Jerusalem for first time

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The Independent Online

Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, are to hold their summit this month in Jerusalem, according to an announcement by the Israeli Prime Minister's office that marks a break with past precedent.

Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, are to hold their summit this month in Jerusalem, according to an announcement by the Israeli Prime Minister's office that marks a break with past precedent.

It is believed to be the first time the leaders from both sides in the conflict have met in the city which is at its heart and which both claim as their capital.

The disclosure of the planned venue came after Mr Sharon made a courtesy telephone call to Mr Abbas to wish him a speedy recovery from his angioplasty operation in Jordan. The procedure is one to clear out clogged arteries.

The mere fact they are meeting in Jerusalem - at a location still to be disclosed - does not undermine either leader's claim on the status of the capital. While Mr Sharon's Likud party claims Jerusalem as the "undivided" capital of Israel, the Palestinian leadership insist that any final peace deal would have to provide for East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed in 1967 during the Six Day War, to be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

But assuming that Mr Abbas has agreed to the venue, both adherents of the hard right in Israeli politics and Palestinian critics of Mr Abbas could try to portray the summit as a symbolic concession to Mr Sharon - even though it is convenient for both parties.

Yasser Arafat, Mr Abbas's predecessor, did not meet the Israeli Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin or Ehud Barak in Jerusalem. But Mr Barak travelled to the West Bank city of Ramallah, the Palestinians' current administrative centre, for talks with Mr Arafat in 2000. Mr Abbas, more phlegmatic than his predecessor, is less likely to see the venue as a key issue.

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