- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 29, 2005

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in two weeks, an official said yesterday, as the two sides prepared to discuss the transfer of security control in parts of the West Bank. The announcement of the meeting fueled real optimism about progress toward peace.

The security transfer in the West Bank is due to follow the Abbas-Sharon meeting, the latest in a series of peace gestures between Israel and the Palestinians during a lull in violence.

“This meeting should take place a fortnight from now,” said Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia’s top aide, Hassan Abu Libdeh.

Mr. Abbas met Mr. Sharon in 2003, but the proposed summit would be the first between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in more than four years.

Supported by his top allies in Washington, Mr. Sharon refused to have anything to do with Mr. Abbas’s late predecessor, Yasser Arafat, but in a major policy shift, Israel has called off offensive operations in Gaza after more than 4,000 Palestinian troops were deployed across the territory with orders to halt rocket attacks.

Government spokesman Avi Pazner called it Israel’s “biggest gesture” since the Palestinian uprising began in September 2000, with the hope that it could “turn a new page with the Palestinians.”

Mr. Abbas, on his first foreign tour as Palestinian Authority president, briefed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak yesterday on efforts to secure a formal truce from militant groups to sustain the informal lull in anti-Israeli attacks.

Talks focused on moves to revive the peace process and the economic aid needed by the Palestinians to restore security in the occupied territories, an Egyptian source said. About 40 Palestinian policemen are in Egypt for training ahead of Israel’s planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip later this year, officials added.

Cairo has declared its readiness to train 30,000 Palestinian police to take charge of security in Gaza and is willing to deploy an extra 700 guards along its border with Gaza to tighten security after the Israelis leave.

Meanwhile, former Palestinian security minister Mohammed Dahlan was due to meet Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz in Tel Aviv to discuss a transfer of security control in five West Bank cities, Palestinian sources said.

Also on the agenda was a possible halt to Israeli military operations in the West Bank and the release of some of the 8,000 Palestinians jailed in Israel, with reports that officials are ready to free a first group of 900.

Despite the lull in violence in the occupied territories, two Palestinians wounded by Israeli troops in separate incidents in southern Gaza died of their injuries, Palestinian medical sources said. One was a mentally handicapped man injured on Friday near Khan Yunis, medics said, identifying him as Ibrahim el-Shawas, 36.

The second, Ahmed Abu Mustafa, was badly injured on December 22 when Israeli troops staged a major incursion into the Khan Yunis refugee camp.

Medics said they also had discovered the body of a militant near the Kissufim border crossing in central Gaza.

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