Sign in to comment!

Menu
Home

Qureia: Meeting With Sharon 'Difficult'

Israeli and Palestinian leaders failed Tuesday to resolve "all the basic issues" facing them at their first summit since a February cease-fire was declared, the Palestinian prime minister said.

The summit with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) was "difficult" and "did not live up to our expectations," Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (search) said.

Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (search) met for more than two hours Tuesday at the Israeli leader's residence in Jerusalem in a summit that was already clouded by Israel's arrest of 52 Islamic Jihad (search) activists and a missile strike in the Gaza Strip.

The meeting was meant to step up coordination of Israel's planned Gaza withdrawal, which is to begin in less than two months.

Sharon said in a speech after the summit that he and Abbas "agreed during the meeting on full coordination of our exit from Gaza."

Sharon initially proposed his Gaza withdrawal as a unilateral Israeli step, but in recent weeks has decided to coordinate it with the Palestinians, though insisting that progress depends on tougher Palestinian action against militants.

"There will be no pullout under fire. We will not stop the pullout. We will stop the terrorism," he said.

Israeli officials said Sharon told Abbas that Israel would hand over two more West Bank towns and consider releasing more prisoners if the Palestinians take steps to end violence.

"When we were in Sharm el-Sheik, you said that you would exert all efforts to stop the terror and begin to remove the infrastructure of terror, but the action never happened," Sharon told Abbas during the summit, according to video of the meeting released by the Israeli government. Abbas and Sharon last met on Feb. 8 in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik, where they declared an end to four and half years of bloodshed. This was their first summit in Jerusalem.

The Israeli prime minister also gave Abbas permission to begin preparations for reopening the Gaza Strip's airport and harbor, Israel Radio reported. The opening of the ports is seen as key to reducing Gaza's isolation once Israel pulls out of the coastal strip this summer.

Israel would allow the return of some deportees to the West Bank and consider releasing more Palestinian prisoners, all in exchange for increased Palestinian efforts to rein in militants, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because no official statement has been issued from the Israeli side.

Abbas had been scheduled to speak to reporters after the summit, which was the first such meeting to be held in Jerusalem, but sent Qureia instead — a sign of Palestinian disappointment.

"In all the basic issues for which we were expecting positive responses, there were none," Qureia said at a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

When asked about the summit, Mohammed Dahlan (search), the Palestinian minister in charge of coordinating Israel's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip this summer, said: "There was nothing, nothing."

Abbas told Sharon the Palestinian Authority is organizing a force of 5,000 men to ensure calm during the pullout, said Israeli officials who participated in the meeting.

Sharon told Abbas that Israel would hand over the West Bank towns of Qalqiliya and Bethlehem to Palestinian control in two weeks, if the Palestinians take steps to stop attacks, Sharon adviser Ranaan Gissin told The Associated Press.

Israel was to hand over five towns as part of the truce, but it stopped the process after Jericho and Tulkarem were turned over, charging that the Palestinians had not disarmed militants in the towns under their control. The fifth town was Ramallah, where Abbas has his headquarters.

Gissin said Sharon offered a number of other gestures in exchange for quiet: to allow 26,000 Palestinian laborers and 13,400 merchants into Israel to work each day and an easing of the passages between Israel and Gaza.

The Palestinian leader also pledged to work toward "one authority, one gun" in the Palestinian territories, but did not commit to anything concrete, Israeli officials said. Despite Israel's demand that he disarm militants, Abbas has shied away from armed confrontations, fearing civil war and preferring control through negotiation.

In the hours before the meeting, Israeli forces swept through the West Bank, arresting 52 suspected Islamic Jihad militants, its first big crackdown since the cease-fire, abandoning a policy of restraint.

An Israeli aircraft also fired two missiles at an abandoned structure in the northern Gaza Strip as the meeting opened, said Palestinian Interior Ministry spokesman Tawfiq Abu Khoussa. Army Radio said it was a failed attempt to kill an Islamic Jihad militant — signaling a resumption of targeted killings suspended with the truce.

The Israeli army gave no information on the airstrike, but said Palestinian mortar and rocket fire had come from the area earlier in the day. No injuries were reported.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said the military revised its policy because the Palestinian Authority has been "ineffectual."

"When we found out that the Islamic Jihad was carrying out acts of terror and wasn't adhering to the truce ... then there was no choice but to take resolute action," Mofaz said. "That activity will continue everywhere, and at all times."

Islamic Jihad unleashed a new wave of attacks beginning Saturday, when militants shot up an Israeli army post in Gaza in a raid that left one of the attackers dead. On Sunday, militants killed a soldier in an ambush near the Gaza border with Egypt. A militant was also killed in that attack. On Monday, gunmen ambushed an Israeli civilian vehicle driving through the northern West Bank, killing one of the passengers.

In response, the military decided it will no longer limit its operations to "ticking bombs," but will go after anyone affiliated with Islamic Jihad group, said Lt. Col. Erez Winner, a senior Israeli commander in the West Bank.

He said he didn't expect more mass arrests, because the overnight sweep netted many of the militants Israel has been watching.

Khadr Adnan, an Islamic Jihad spokesman in the West Bank, said if the Palestinian Authority and Egypt, which brokered the cease-fire declaration, don't take action to ensure Israel's commitment to the truce, "then we will consider ourselves to be outside (it), and will call upon all Palestinian factions to do the same."

Islamic Jihad is the smaller of the two main militant groups in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. In addition to this week's violence, the group carried out the deadliest single attack since the truce declaration, a Feb. 25 bombing of a Tel Aviv nightclub that killed five Israelis.

The larger militant group, Hamas, has been relatively quiet as it tries to cement a political following ahead of upcoming Palestinian legislative elections.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, called the meeting a "total failure" and urged that Abbas stop meeting with the Israelis.

See the latest updates on the hottest midterm races from Fox News

Full Elections Coverage →

Keep up with all the 2014 races in

Coverage →