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Israel might consider 'one-way trip' for Arafat

Sharon, Abbas talk of peace, hope and risks

Abbas, left, and Sharon shake hands Tuesday.
Abbas, left, and Sharon shake hands Tuesday.

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Formal implementation of the Mideast 'road map' got underway as Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas met to discuss the peace process. CNN's Mike Hanna reports (July 1)
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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel would consider any request from Palestinian President Yasser Arafat to move to Gaza, Israeli officials said Tuesday.

But if Arafat were allowed to leave the West Bank, "it would most likely be a one-way trip," an official said.

Israeli troops have isolated Arafat for months at his compound in Ramallah.

A lifting of the siege and free movement for Arafat were among the demands by the militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad and Arafat's Fatah movement when they declared a cease-fire against Israeli targets Sunday.

The issue was discussed during a meeting Tuesday between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, the officials said.

Israel made a similar suggestion in April 2002 when Arafat's compound was under siege after a wave of terror attacks that began during Passover.

Sharon said world leaders concerned about Arafat's welfare could pick him up by helicopter, but that he could not take anyone with him, and "it is going to be a one-way ticket." Arafat rejected the notion of exile outright.

In 2001 and again in 2002, Israel also barred Arafat from leaving the compound to attend Christmas religious services in Bethlehem.

Before the Jerusalem talks Tuesday, Sharon and Abbas stood side-by-side at a news conference, shook hands and promised to move forward on the U.S.-backed "road map," each pledging they want peace with the other.

Abbas said: "Every day that passes without agreement is a lost opportunity. Every person killed is a human tragedy.

"So enough killing, enough death, enough pain, and let's go together courageously without hesitation to the future that we all deserve."

Sharon said, "Even if painful compromises have to be made here for a genuine peace, a peace for over the generations ... I will be prepared to make it.

"However, we must not forget that in addition to the hope and the chances there are also many risks and dangers. There are many people still who would like to see this process -- any process -- crashing and collapsing.

"There will be no compromise with terror ... no peace with terror."

Senior Sharon aide Ra'anan Gissin said the session, which lasted more than two hours, was "down to business."

Gissin characterized it as "a willingness to go forward rather than backward."

He said both sides seemed to appreciate the constraints that the other faces.

On the issue of Palestinian prisoners, Gissin said, "There is no doubt that prisoners will be released." However, he said Sharon had not received a list from Israeli officials of those who might be released.

Gissin said the list would be delivered soon, and a future meeting between the two leaders will address the matter.

The issue of further Israeli withdrawals from the Palestinian territories was not discussed, Gissin said, because Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan and Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told the leaders they would handle the matter in separate talks.

Israeli troops, who pulled back Monday from northern Gaza, are scheduled to withdraw Wednesday from the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

Sharon and Abbas were expected to re-establish committees to work out details for handling certain issues. Committees set up before the start of the Palestinian intifada in September 2000 have not met in two years because of the violence.

Palestinian gunman killed

Hours before Tuesday's talks, Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian gunman near the West Bank town of Tulkarem, Israeli military sources said.

"An armed Palestinian gunman approached an Israeli military checkpoint south of Tulkarem and opened fire at the Israeli soldiers," the sources said. "The soldiers returned fire and killed the Palestinian gunman. The Israeli soldiers were unharmed."

There was no claim of responsibility in the second attack by Palestinians since Sunday's cease-fire announcements by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah.

In the first attack, a Bulgarian construction worker was killed Monday near the West Bank town of Jenin.

Members of Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility, sparking fears of a split within the group between those who wanted to follow the cease-fire and those who wanted to continue fighting.

An Al Aqsa member in Jenin, who said he was talking on behalf of all parties in the West Bank, said he and other leaders held meetings over the last two days and agreed "to continue the struggle."

The member, known only as Zakaria, acknowledged difficulties in contacting Gaza members but denied a split.

However, Al Aqsa officials in Gaza said they supported the cease-fire and issued a statement after Monday's killing saying they had "decided to desist from all sorts of resistance and to stop our actions against the Israelis."

Al Aqsa is a militant offshoot of Arafat's Fatah movement. Arafat told reporters Tuesday that those responsible for killing the construction worker had been arrested. He did not elaborate or offer any details.

Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades are on the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist organizations.

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