Sharon refuses to meet De Villepin

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said on Saturday he would not meet with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin as Israeli forces raided a West Bank Palestinian refugee camp.

    De Villepin will meet Arafat

    Sharon’s decision came a day after the French foreign ministry announced that de Villepin would meet Palestinian President, Yasser Arafat.


    Israel and its US ally have adopted a policy of bypassing Arafat and accusing him of fomenting violence.


    De Villepin will visit the Occupied Territories and Israel this weekend to hold talks with Palestinian and Israeli officials on the internationally backed “road map” plan for peace in the Middle East.


    On Friday, Sharon said he was ready to back the plan and seek his cabinet’s approval in exchange for an American commitment to address Israel’s reservations regarding the plan.


    A senior State Department official said Saturday that the US promise to deal with Israeli concerns did not necessarily mean it would agree with Israel on every point.


    Palestinians back the plan, which was drafted by the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia. The “road map” calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2005.


    The French foreign minister is scheduled to meet his Israeli counterpart, Silvan Shalom, on Sunday. The following day, he will meet Arafat, Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Foreign Minister, Nabil Shaath, in the West Bank town of Ram Allah.


    De Villepin’s visit comes as Israeli incursions to the areas in the Occupied Territories continued.


    Israeli soldiers search houses in

    Around 50 Israeli armoured vehicles attacked the Tulkarem West Bank Palestinian refugee camp on Saturday.


    Israeli soldiers conducted house-to-house searches for resistance fighters and imposed a curfew, witnesses said. The occupation forces also took control of buildings in the neighbouring town of Thannaba, turning them into barricades.


    The army said it wanted to destroy what it called the camp’s “terrorist infrastructure”. Israeli forces have repeatedly made incursions into Tulkarem’s camp during the past two years.


    There were no immediate reports of clashes or casualties in the raid that began at dawn.


    In the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli soldiers, who claimed that he was armed and trying to slip into Israel from the Gaza Strip, Israel’s army radio said.


    Aljazeera correspondent reported that Israeli forces opened fire from heavy machine guns and launched missiles on the Abu Safiya district, east of Beit Lahiya in Gaza.


    As a result, farms in eastern Gaza were damaged as well as a Palestinian security site.


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