Abbas ready to honour road map to peace

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said on Thursday that he is ready to honour the security commitments in an internationally backed peace plan, adding that he hopes to resume peace talks with Israel soon.

In the Gaza Strip, Israeli troops opened fire on a car, killing a Palestinian man who was driving his pregnant neighbour to a hospital. Soldiers said they fired after the car headed toward them and the driver ignored calls to stop.

Abbas, elected earlier this week, said he is eager to restart talks on the “road map,” a peace plan backed by the United States, European Union and the Russian Federation.

The plan, which envisions an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, has been stalled since it was launched in mid-2003 amid violations by both sides. The road map requires Israel to freeze settlement activity in the West Bank and Gaza, while Palestinians must dismantle militant groups.

“We emphasise before you that we are committing to the road map,” Abbas said after a meeting with local and international Christian leaders.

“As you know, this plan starts with security commitments and eventually deals with the final status issues, like borders and Jerusalem.
We are ready to implement our commitments. We hope the Israeli side will do the same,” he added.

Abbas did not specify what sort of security measures he is ready to take. He has rejected Israeli calls to confront militants, preferring instead to persuade them to halt their attacks.

Abbas will have a difficult time moving forward without an agreement with the militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In public, the groups have rejected calls for a ceasefire, but have signalled they are open to the idea if Abbas can guarantee their safety from Israel. Abbas appears to have wide public support from a Palestinian public weary from more than four years of fighting with Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon this week called Abbas—the first direct contact between Israeli and Palestinian leaders since 2003—and said he expects talks on security matters to begin soon.

Abbas is to be sworn into office on Saturday. He said that soon after he forms a new government, “there will be contacts with Israel that will start with calm and security, and then move to the other issues”.

Sharon, who shunned Yasser Arafat, has said he would be willing to coordinate his planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip with the new Palestinian leadership. The withdrawal was initially proposed as a unilateral initiative after the road map fizzled.

Sharon this week formed a new coalition government with the dovish Labour Party to bolster support for the withdrawal, which is to begin in July.

Sharon was to meet with an ultra-Orthodox party on Thursday to try to broaden his coalition further. Sharon has been trying to expand his government to neutralise “rebels” in his Likud Party who oppose the Gaza withdrawal plan.

Abbas called Labour’s inclusion in the Israeli government a “good sign”, adding that he hopes the Gaza withdrawal will be the first step toward carrying out the road map.

Since Arafat died on November 11, there has been a drop in fighting, although the violence has continued.

On Thursday, Israeli troops shot at a car in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya, killing the driver. The man had been driving his pregnant neighbour to give birth at a hospital.

At the time, soldiers were conducting an arrest raid in Beit Lahiya. The army said soldiers opened fire because the car headed toward them and the driver ignored calls to stop.

The driver was taking the woman and her husband to the hospital, doctors said. The husband was moderately wounded with a gunshot wound to the shoulder, they said. The woman gave birth to a boy shortly after the incident.—Sapa-AP

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