Abbas and Sharon: Symbolic  
  media event

Although the two men had met before in Jerusalem – the epicentre of their conflict, this was their first meeting open to international news coverage.


Several Israeli and Palestinian cabinet ministers sat and chatted together at a table beside them as the two leaders spoke to reporters.


Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he did not want to rule Palestinians or decide their future, and said he was willing to pay a “painful price” for peace.


"I have no doubt that the picture coming out of here today to the people of Israel and the Palestinian people and the entire world is one of hope and of optimism," Sharon said.


Calling Palestinian resistance against Israeli occupiers as “terror”, Sharon added that peace would not be possible if it continued.


Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas said his people wanted an end to the conflict with Israel, adding that the only way to progress was "through dialogue, discussions and negotiations".


"Our conflict with you is a political conflict and we will end it through political means. We do not have hostility with the Israeli people and we have no interest in continuing the conflict with them," Abbas said.


Abbas and Sharon ended their remarks with a long handshake, looking at each other. They took no questions.


The talks are expected revolve around the revival of Palestinian-Israeli joint committees that existed before the intifada started in September 2000.

  Conflict resolution through
  political means says Abbas


The committees cover finance, security, law, economy and prisoners’ affairs.


Continued withdrawal


Earlier in the day, Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz announced that Israeli occupation forces would withdraw from the southern West Bank town of Bethlehem and its surroundings.


"We will hand over security control for Bethlehem to the Palestinians on Wednesday," Mofaz told Israeli public radio.


"This withdrawal will be a test to see whether the security of Israelis, including those in Judea and Samaria, is assured," he said, using the Jewish name for the occupied West Bank.



Palestinian killed


In other developments, a Palestinian man was shot dead by Israeli occupation forces near the West Bank city of Tulkarem on Tuesday.


An Israeli forces spokesperson later claimed the man had opened fire at an Israeli checkpoint.


He added that no Israelis were injured in the incident.


No Palestinian resistance group claimed responsibility for the attack.


The incident came following a three-month ceasefire declared by five Palestinian resistance groups.


It is the second since the truce was declared for the first time on Sunday.


Israeli bulldozers destroy the
foundation of a mosque

On Monday, Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades claimed responsibility for a shooting that resulted in the killing of a Bulgarian worker who was driving a truck in the West Bank.


Shortly afterwards, it said it would join the truce.


Meanwhile, bulldozers began destroying the foundations of a mosque near the Basilica of Annunciation in Nazareth, the birth place of Jesus Christ, according to Christian scripture.


Seven Palestinians holding Israeli citizenship were arrested for protesting the mosque’s destruction.


Two Israeli police were wounded, Israeli radio reported.