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Israeli, Palestinian Leaders Discuss Peace Plan

They will meet next week with President Bush to talk about the internationally backed “road map” to peace in the Middle East.

Abbas reportedly demanded Israel recognize the right of Palestinians to have a state of their own, while Sharon said such a statement hinged on a Palestinian crackdown on terrorist groups.

“The prime minister demanded that his Palestinian colleague take vigorous action to halt terrorism and practical steps on the ground,” said a statement released by Sharon’s office.

Sharon further offered to pull Israeli troops out of areas within the Gaza Strip and West Bank if Palestinian security forces moved in to control militants, Reuters reported.

Both the recognition of a Palestinian state and the dismantling of terrorist groups are elements of the road map backed by the so-called “Quartet” — the U.S., Russia, European Union and the United Nations.

The road map’s first phase calls for an end to terrorist attacks and the beginning of Israeli troop withdrawals from Palestinian areas.

Abbas said Thursday he is close to reaching an agreement with the militant Palestinian group Hamas that would temporarily end attacks on Israelis. Another militant group, Islamic Jihad, said it too would consider ending attacks for a time.

“If there is a readiness by Israel to stop its military actions against us and start freeing political prisoners, I think we are ready to guarantee a total cessation of violence,” Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath told Israel TV, according to the Associated Press.

However, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a Palestinian group known for launching suicide attacks against Israelis, reportedly faxed a statement to the AP that said it would continue attacks “in any time and in any place while the occupiers are taking our land, our prisoners are still in prison and our refugees are living outside their homeland.”

Sharon’s cabinet approved the road map on Sunday, but cited 14 points of concern that needed to be addressed before full implementation.

One of the points said Palestinian refugees should have no “no right of return” to Palestinian areas. Another of the points called for the complete dismantling of militant groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Abbas said Wednesday that Israel should drop its 14 reservations to the plan and move forward with the peace process. Sharon has said that the 14 reservations are “red lines” that Israel will not cross.

The meeting marked the second summit in as many weeks for the two leaders. They are scheduled to meet with President Bush in Aqaba, Jordan next Wednesday to discuss the peace process.

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