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.

Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA powerful collection of reportage on Egypt’s cycle of awakening and relapse
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

English Teacher

£110 - £130 per day + Pay between ?110 - ?130 Day: Randstad Education Cardiff:...

SAP Deployment Manager

£480 per day + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Deployment Manager-Ta...

Microsoft Dynamics CRM Consultant

£50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Urgently seeking a Dynam...

Test Lead - Financial Reporting - Banking - London

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Test Lead, London, Banking, Financial Reporting, ...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game