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Abbas, Sharon agree only to meet again

Each side presses other on points of peace 'road map'

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, left, and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas met Saturday evening in the first such summit in more than two years.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, left, and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas met Saturday evening in the first such summit in more than two years.

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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have agreed to hold further talks on the so-called "road map" to peace.

The two met Saturday night in what was the first face-to-face talks between top Palestinian and Israeli leaders in 2 1/2 years.

The two men reached no formal agreements other than to meet again, though no date was set.

They had planned to continue talks sometime after Sharon's planned visit with President George W. Bush in Washington next week, according to an Israeli source. However. Sharon postponed his trip to the United States after a suicide bomb attack on a Jerusalem commuter bus kills at least seven people and wounds several others. (Full story).

Saturday's discussion was held in Sharon's office in Jerusalem and lasted nearly three hours. It ended just before 1 a.m. Sunday [6 p.m. Saturday EDT], sources on both sides said.

Ra'anan Gissin, a senior adviser to Sharon, told CNN that the Israeli side pressed the Palestinians for a "relentless, concerted effort" to fight terrorism, and that the Palestinians promised to exert "the maximum effort" needed to achieve that.

"What is needed right now is performance in action," Gissin said.

Nabil Sha'ath, the Palestinian foreign minister, said Abbas told Sharon that Israel must accept and implement the Middle East peace "road map" before the Palestinian Authority can be expected to disarm radical Palestinian groups that are responsible for suicide attacks against Israel.

The road map -- which is backed by the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia -- envisions an end to Israeli-Palestinian fighting and the creation of an independent Palestinian state by 2005.

Sha'ath said Israeli acceptance of the road map is key to controlling and ending the violence.

"Once that commitment from Israel comes, we will all work together in order to achieve a full and immediate cease-fire, not through a civil war with Palestinians, but through a full commitment of the Palestinians," he said.

'Very serious discussion'

Gissin said Sharon and Abbas, commonly known as Abu Mazen, held a "very serious discussion, and all possibilities were explored."

Sharon pressed the Palestinians to do more to fight terrorism before he signs on to the road map, Gissin said.

An hour before the meeting began, a suicide bomber dressed as a Sabbath-observing Jew killed an Israeli couple in a settlement in the West Bank town of Hebron, Israeli officials said. (Full story)

Sharon won a landslide victory over Ehud Barak in a special election for prime minister in February 2001. Many Palestinians blame Sharon for the most recent series of Palestinian-Israeli violence, claiming that his visit to a disputed Jerusalem site September 28, 2000, endangered the push for peace.

Sharon has said that he went to the site -- known as the Temple Mount to Jews and the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims -- with a message of peace. He says the violence was a premeditated campaign orchestrated by the Palestinian Authority. (Sharon profile)

Saeb Erakat, who resigned as chief Palestinian negotiator Friday, says he supports the summit.
Saeb Erakat, who resigned as chief Palestinian negotiator Friday, says he supports the summit.

The position of Palestinian prime minister was created in March. After a power struggle with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, Abbas accepted the post and appointed cabinet ministers, and his government was approved by the Palestinian legislature. (Abbas profile)

Israeli sources have said Sharon still wants several changes to the road map. Gissin also said the plan itself "may still change in the future," and said that was one reason Sharon was not ready to accept it.

The Palestinian Authority's former lead negotiator predicted Saturday that the meeting would lead to nothing substantive if Israel did not first agree to accept the road map.

Saeb Erakat, the man who had been in the vanguard of talks with Israel for years, was notably absent from the meeting.

Erakat resigned as the Palestinian minister in charge of negotiations with Israel, Palestinian official sources said Friday

Erakat's resignation

Seen by many as the public face of the Palestinian Authority, Erakat -- who has represented the authority in peace negotiations with Israel since 1995 -- gave his resignation letter to Abbas and Arafat on Thursday, sources said. (Full story)

It's not clear why Erakat, a close Arafat loyalist, made the move.

"My heart is broken, and I really wish Abu Mazen success, but I think from what I see on the ground -- Sharon insists to continue the settlement activity, the incursions and so on -- and I don't want to be taken for a ride anymore," Erakat told CNN Radio.

"We deserve a full democracy, accountability, transference and human rights, and I think the Israelis deserve with us a better future for peace and coexistence." (On the scene)

Palestinian official sources told CNN that Erakat was "fed up" with the current Palestinian leadership, and believes the Palestinian people "deserve better."

Israeli media have quoted unnamed senior Palestinian officials who said Erakat was enraged by Abbas' decision not to include him at the Saturday session. Erakat called such reports "nonsense" and said he turned in his resignation before he knew whether he would be attending the meeting.

"I supported this meeting," Erakat told CNN. "I urged Abu Mazen to meet with Sharon."

With this resignation taking effect in a week, it's also unclear whether events could change during the next several days, which could result in Erakat retracting his letter.

Erakat has previously mentioned the toll his position has taken on his family life.

-- CNN's Kelly Wallace and Avit Dalgoshen contributed to this report.

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