Israeli and Palestinian Leaders Lay Groundwork for Summit

Sharon told the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth in a story published Thursday, ”There is no doubt that Abu Mazen [Abbas] has begun to work.”

“I am very satisfied with what I hear is happening on the Palestinian side, and I have a serious interest in advancing the process with him.”

Meanwhile, after talks with U.S. envoy William Burns, Abbas urged Israelis to quickly agree to a ceasefire with Palestinians, citing that Palestinians “cannot wait for a week or two.”

The two sides are expected to meet in a summit within the next couple of weeks, though a date has not yet been set.

“I intend to advance the chance for an opportunity for an agreement with the Palestinians, I intend to make gestures toward Abu Mazen and at the same time keep my eyes open and examine the situation on their side,” Sharon said.

Abbas told Beirut’s daily newspaper, An-Nahar, that the “ball is in Israel’s court.”

“On our side we have decided to calm down things, and we informed the Israelis of our decision in order to have a reciprocal move, but if Israel continues its practices against Palestinians the lull will not last long,” Abbas told Beirut’s daily newspaper An-Nahar in an interview published Thursday.

In his push to control violence in the region, a platform he used while campaigning, Abbas issued a ban on civilians carrying weapons in public. Militants often wield rifles on the streets, sometimes overpowering the authority of Palestinian forces, the Associated Press reported.

On the heels of Sharon’s praise for Abbas, Israel agreed to release 500 Palestinian prisoners.

Despite the recent developments, Israel’s foreign minister Silvan Shalom warned that the agreement between Abbas and militants was a “ticking bomb which will blow up in our faces.”

Palestinians in 10 districts in Gaza voted Thursday in local elections. Both militant groups — Hamas and Islamic Jihad — were expected to challenge the ruling Fatah party.