PM's office: Sharon and Abbas will meet soon
PA Chairman wishes Sharon well ahead of Passover holiday; Mofaz and Dahlan agree to coordinate Gaza pullout.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas will meet again soon, Sharon's office said on Friday. Sources in Jerusalem told Haaretz that the meeting is expected to take place before Abbas' scheduled trip to Washington next month.
The announcement came in a statement after officials began renewed talks about Israel's planned pullout from the Gaza Strip.
The statement also said Abbas called Sharon to wish him well for Passover.
Mofaz and Dahlan agree to coordinate Gaza pullout Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister Mohammed Dahlan agreed overnight Thursday to form "coordination mechanisms" ahead of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza this summer.
The two ministers also agreed to continue meeting until the implementation of the pullout. In the meantime, committees on a lower level would coordinate the pullout.
Israel Radio quoted Mofaz as saying that the security coordination with the Palestinians was meant to avoid a situtation in which the pullout would take place "under fire" from Palestinian militants.
Both sides have an interest in security cooperation, but this was not a condition for the pullout, said the defense minister.
Mofaz also demanded that the Palestinian security forces keep to their commitment to disarm militants in the two towns Israel has handed over to the PA in recent months - Jericho and Tul Karm.
Mofaz claimed that the PA breached its agreements with Israel and said that as long as it does not stick to the agreements it would be impossible for Israel to transfer security control over more Palestinian towns.
Dahlan said that the PA intends to carry out all the commitments Abbas made to Israel.
The Mofaz-Dahlan meeting was the third in a series of top-level meetings between Israel and the Palestinians in recent days, aimed at coordinating the pullout.
Sharon's advisor, Dov Weissglas, and Palestinian Minister Saeb Erekat met Thursday after a hiatus of a few months and discussed the meeting between Sharon and Abbas. They did not set a date for the meeting but spoke of the need for one.
Erekat said after the meeting that the two delegations agreed to renew the work of the joint committees for the release of Palestinian prisoners, wanted and extradited militants (including Israel's promise to release 400 more Palestinian prisoners), and the Israeli handover of West Bank towns to Palestinian control.
These understandings were stalled as Israel has demanded the Palestinians do more to rein in militants.
U.S. envoys in Jerusalem American envoys Elliot Abrams and David Welch held separate meetings Thursday with Sharon, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Mofaz. They reported on their talks in Ramallah on Wednesday and said they found the Palestinians more willing than before to coordinate the disengagement from Gaza and the northern West Bank.
Abrams and Welch said Abbas was the elected leader of the PA and he was the one Israel and the United States should work with. They said no date had been fixed yet for Abbas' visit to Washington, slated for May.
Sharon complained to the American envoys that Abbas was not acting firmly enough against terror.
Vice Premier Shimon Peres on Thursday met Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and Erekat and discussed the economic aspects of the disengagement.
Qureia said the Palestinian order of priorities was creating jobs ("we have 240,000 unemployed people"), rehabilitating water, sewage and electricity infrastructures, and providing access to the Gaza Strip via a sea port and an airport.
Qureia, who previously objected to coordinating the disengagement, now supports it. "We want cooperation in the Oslo spirit," he said.
Peres promised Qureia that the pullout from Gaza "will not be the last," and assured him that Israel was committed to the road map. Erekat brought up complaints about the roadblocks obstructing the Palestinians' freedom of movement.