Sharon pays tribute to Abbas as Rice plans visit to Middle East

Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, is to visit the Middle East shortly in the wake of an optimistic prediction by Ariel Sharon that Israel and the Palestinians could be on the verge of a "historic breakthrough".

Ms Rice's visit to explore prospects for political progress was disclosed amid separate discussions on a possible tripartite mechanism to prevent isolated breaches ending the present undeclared truce.

The tentative plans have been discussed in a flurry of diplomatic activity which has included a visit by the US Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, who met Mr Sharon last night.

Dov Weisglass, Mr Sharon's most senior adviser, was on his way to Washington last night to brief senior US officials after the Israeli Prime Minister said he was "very satisfied" by the efforts of the new Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to call an end to militant violence.

Mr Sharon said in a speech last night: "I believe that the conditions are now ripe to allow us and the Palestinians to reach a historic breakthrough in the relations between us." He added that if the Palestinians acted in "a comprehensive fashion to fight terror, violence and incitement" Israel could return to the internationally agreed road-map to peace ­ and co-ordinate with the Palestinians its planned withdrawal of 7,500 settlers from Gaza.

Using the Palestinian President's familiar name, Mr Sharon told the mass-circulation daily Yedhiot Ahronot: "There is no doubt Abu Mazen has started to work. I am very satisfied with what I am hearing is happening on the Palestinian side and I am very interested in advancing processes with him."

Israeli sources also confirmed last night that the army intended to halt targeted killing of militants provided the truce held on the Palestinian side. But the sources said that Israel reserved the right to continue to act against "ticking bombs" ­ cases where it positively identified individuals preparing to attack an Israeli target.

One idea floated in informal talks involving Washington is that the US would help to co-ordinate with Israeli and Palestinian security officials some form of fast-track unit aimed at ensuring that any isolated incidents, whether attacks by militants or shootings and arrests by Israeli forces, do not escalate into wider violence.

The Palestinians blame Israel for the breakdown in the 2003 ceasefire brokered by Mr Abbas when he was prime minister by continued pursuit and assassinations of militants. While not endorsing this interpretation, a government source said: "Israel will not repeat its actions from the previous time."

Israel is reluctant to respond publicly to the call by the Palestinian leadership, repeated by Mr Abbas yesterday, for a formal agreement to the conditions set by the armed factions for a full and formal ceasefire on the grounds that it would "legitimise Hamas and Islamic Jihad". But the sources said that Israel was considering prisoner releases as a confidence-building measure.

The demand for militants to be released was a central condition in talks between Mr Abbas and the armed factions in Gaza over the weekend. What remains to be seen is whether Mr Sharon is prepared to sanction releases in sufficient numbers to give Mr Abbas the leverage he needs with the armed factions.

In a further symbol of Mr Abbas's determination to maintain law and order, the Palestinian leadership yesterday issued a decree banning people not in the security forces from carrying weapons. The decree, issued by Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, emphasised crime rather than militant activity as a reason for the ban.

There were also unconfirmed indications that Nasser Yousef, who played a leading role in the crackdown on militants ordered by Yasser Arafat in the mid-1990s, would become Security Minister. General Yousef subsequently quarrelled with Arafat over the failure to reform the security services as Mr Abbas is now pledged to do.

There was some confusion over the pace of deployment of Palestinian security forces to southern Gaza after the Israeli military said it had already started. Palestinian sources, however, said it would start today after a delay caused by "technical difficulties".

There has been frequent combat in recent weeks in the southern town of Khan Yunis after mortar and rocket attacks, and a three-year-old girl was killed by Israeli fire to the north of it on Wednesday after two rockets were launched from the area.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'