Violence threatens Middle East summit

Violence has threatened a crucial summit meeting intended to promote Middle East peace efforts after Israeli soldiers shot and killed three Palestinians next to the Gaza-Israel border fence.

    Abbas (L) and Sharon are scheduled to meet on Tuesday

    The military said soldiers spotted the three crawling

    towards the border fence near the Kissufim crossing point

    late on Sunday carrying a bag, allegedly planning to plant a

    bomb, and they opened fire.

    Palestinian officials said the three were killed, and

    contacts were under way with the Israelis to turn over their

    bodies.

    It was the most serious incident of its kind since

    Israel completed its Gaza pullout last month.

    The clash comes as Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erikat was

    to sit with Dov Weisglass, a top aide to Israeli Prime

    Minister Ariel Sharon, a day before the scheduled summit

    between Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

    Uncertainty

    It was

    not immediately known whether the talks would proceed. 

    Chief Palestinian negotiator
    Saeb Erikat

    Although both sides have reasons to hold a well-publicised summit to symbolise continued progress towards peace after Israel's pullout from Gaza and part of the West Bank, Israel has balked at making gestures it said would harm its security.

    Palestinians said there was no point in a summit just for

    the pictures - concrete results were needed.

    Abbas himself

    came under criticism in 2004 when he was prime minister

    under the late Yasser Arafat, for meeting Sharon but coming

    away empty-handed.

    Abbas is to travel to Washington later this month to meet 

    US President George Bush, and he would be

    reluctant to arrive without any concrete achievements from

    a meeting with Sharon.

    Demands

    The Palestinians continue to demand the release of

    prisoners Israel is holding, the handover of West Bank towns

    to Palestinian control, the removal of army roadblocks and

    the reopening the Gaza-Egypt border crossing.

    Israel appeared

    prepared to discuss the border, remove some roadblocks and

    free some prisoners, but not enough to satisfy the

    Palestinians. 

    Dov Weisglass (R) is a top aide
    to Israeli PM 

    Ariel Sharon

    An Erikat-Weisglass meeting on Sunday ended

    without agreement.

    Sharon told his cabinet on Sunday that he did not know if the

    meeting would take place, stressing that he would not make

    moves that he believed threatened Israel's security.

    "There are gestures that Israel can and will make, and

    there are gestures that it won't," he said, according to the

    meeting participants.

    Honouring pledges

    Abbas has said one of his goals will be to persuade Israel

    to carry out pledges it already has made, including pulling

    its troops out of five West Bank towns.

    Israel agreed to the pullback as part of a February

    ceasefire agreement. But the process stalled after two towns,

    Jericho and Tulkarim, were handed over, with Israel

    accusing the Palestinians of failing to take action against fighters

    in those towns.

    Israel later retook Tulkarim

    after a bomber from the area attacked an Israeli

    city.

    Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz opposes any further hand

    overs of Palestinian towns, the Defence Ministry said on

    Sunday. Mofaz also objects to supplying Abbas' security

    forces with new weapons. 

    Palestinians want Israel to 
    release prisoners it is holding 

    The Palestinians say their security forces need better

    equipment to restore law and order in the chaotic

    Palestinian areas.

    Abbas has resisted international calls

    to disarm resistance groups, fearing it would provoke civil

    war, although he recently banned armed groups from displaying

    weapons.

    The fighters have repeatedly ignored the ban, although leaders of

    Abbas' Fatah movement called a news conference in Gaza late

    on Sunday to reaffirm their commitment to it.

    Some progress

    The two sides have made progress on other Palestinian

    demands in recent days, with Israel showing flexibility on

    the release of some of the more than 7000 Palestinian

    prisoners it holds and a possible compromise on reopening

    Gaza's border with Egypt.

    Israel closed the Rafah terminal - the main exit out of

    Gaza - before the withdrawal. The Palestinians say

    reopening the border is essential for Gaza's ravaged

    economy.

    Israel reopened a cargo crossing on its border with Gaza

    on Sunday, and Palestinians said this would alleviate a

    shortage of fruit and dairy products in the territory.

    The

    Karni passage and others with the Palestinian area had been

    closed almost continuously since 24 September after dozens of

    rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel.

    Separately, three Palestinians were injured in clashes between Palestinian security forces and al-Nasir Salah al-Din Brigades fighters in Gaza, Aljazeera's correspondent in Palestine reported. 

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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