- The Washington Times - Friday, July 11, 2003

JERUSALEM — Israelis and Palestinians yesterday advanced haltingly along their “road map” to peace, but the latest high-level security talks failed to yield any breakthrough on the key issues.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas are expected in Washington at the end of the month for meetings with President Bush, which could give peace efforts new momentum.

Despite earlier uncertainty because of deep divisions within the Palestinian leadership, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz met Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan on Thursday evening at the Erez crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Mr. Mofaz pressed Mr. Dahlan “to act more quickly against radical groups so the peace process can continue,” Israeli public radio reported.

After the talks, Palestinian security officers shot and wounded a member of the Islamic militant group Hamas in Gaza as Mr. Dahlan’s convoy drove past, Reuters news agency reported.

Security sources said yesterday Mr. Dahlan’s bodyguards opened fire when they believed the man posed a threat to the Palestinian official.

Witnesses said Hamas militants later gathered outside the Palestinian security forces’ office and fired their rifles in the air before throwing three hand grenades at the office.

Hamas official Abdel Aziz Rantisi identified the wounded man as Mohammed Assimri, and denied he had represented a threat to the convoy.

The U.S.-backed road map for peace has recently stumbled on the issue of the release of Palestinian prisoners. The Palestinians demand the release of all 6,000 prisoners detained by the Jewish state, but Israel has agreed to free only 350 and in any case would not release any members of the radical groups Hamas or Islamic Jihad.

Yesterday, some 3,000 Palestinians demonstrated in the streets of the Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza to demand Israel’s release of Palestinian prisoners.

“If the prisoners are released during the truce, good. If not, we will kidnap Jewish soldiers until the release of the last Palestinian held in an Israeli jail,” a senior Hamas leader told the crowd.

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