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Israel’s Sharon Says Ready to Accept U.S. "Road Map" to Peace

In a statement released by his office, Sharon said he “has informed the United States that the state of Israel is prepared to accept the steps prescribed in the road map and that the matter will be brought before the Cabinet for approval.”

Earlier Friday, the Bush administration had promised Israel that its concerns about the peace plan would be “fully and seriously” addressed.

“The United States Government received a response from the Government of Israel, explaining its significant concerns about the roadmap,” said a statement issued jointly by Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

“The United States shares the view of the Government of Israel that these are real concerns, and will address them fully and seriously in the implementation of the roadmap,” the statement continued.

Palestinians officials have said they will accept the plan but reiterated Friday that they would not accept any changes to the agreement.

“We are ready to implement the road map as one package … and without any changes,” Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Amr said Friday, according to the Associated Press.

Secretary Powell later clarified that the latest statement on the plan did not mean the road map would have to be changed.

“We have told the Israeli government that we would take their comments and address them seriously and fully as we went forward in the implementation of the road map,” Powell, who was meeting with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin in Paris, told reporters.

“This does not require us to change the road map. It is a good document that leads to the president’s vision of two states living in peace side by side,” Powell said.

A Sharon adviser said the Cabinet would discuss the road map either Sunday or Monday. The Israeli leader is expected to face opposition to the plan from far-right members of his coalition government.

Full Israeli acceptance of the proposal could lead to a possible summit between Sharon, President Bush and newly installed Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

President Bush said Friday he would “strongly consider” meeting with Sharon and Abbas after the Israeli leader’s statement on the peace plan.

“If a meeting advances progress toward two states living side by side in peace, I will strongly consider such a meeting,” he told reporters on his Texas ranch after talks with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Under the so-called “road map” both Palestinians and Israelis are required to take concrete steps to move the peace process forward. Palestinians must implement an immediate end to suicide attacks, continue democratic reforms to government institutions and reiterate Israel’s right to exist in peace and security.

Israelis must pledge support for a Palestinian state by as early as 2005 and end all work on settlements in contested territory, and must work to normalize Palestinian life by ending occupation of towns and easing blockades.

The plan was jointly drafted by the so-called “quartet” of leaders from the U.S., European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

Palestinian acceptance of the plan has been marred by a rash of recent suicide bombings in Israel that led to the dimming of hopes for the success of the road map or for talks between the two sides.

On Friday, the Islamic militant group Hamas attacked an Israeli bus carrying 15 passengers in the Gaza Strip with explosives in an apparent challenge to Prime Minister Abbas a day after he asked the group to stop targeting Israelis.

Friday’s incident marked the fifth Hamas bombing in a week and left at least two people injured according to media reports.

Also on Friday, the Israeli military destroyed a house near the West Bank city of Nablus belonging to the family of Hiba Daraghmeh, the 19-year-old bomber who killed herself and three Israelis on Monday in an attack outside a shopping mall in northern Israel.

Abbas met with leaders from the Hamas group on Thursday in an attempt to curb attacks against Israeli citizens and give the peace process a chance to begin.

Hamas leaders told Abbas that they would consider putting an end to the attacks if the Israeli military stops actively hunting for suspected Palestinian militants.

Earlier in the week, President Bush made a direct appeal to Abbas to take steps to quell terror attacks against Israel, while reiterating his commitment to help create a Palestinian state.

On Thursday, Israeli authorities reported the interception of a boat off of its Mediterranean coast carrying equipment for “terror attacks” and a suspected explosives expert from the Lebanese group Hezbollah.

“This is a new attempt to smuggle weapons and instructions for terror attacks, and there is no doubt Arafat was involved, as he was in previous cases,” Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told Israeli television.

An Arafat spokesman denied Shalom’s allegation, as did a Hezbollah official in Beirut, according to Reuters.

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