Arafat: Meeting Set with Peres after Syria Visit
Palestinian President Yasser Arafat said Monday he would meet with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres over the weekend, after returning from a two-day official visit to Syria, said reports.
Arafat is scheduled to arrive in Damascus on Tuesday.
Arafat's trip to Syria has been put off several times in recent weeks after rising regional tensions and the September 11 hijacked aircraft attacks on New York and Washington.
Relations between the Palestinians and Syria deteriorated to the point of ties being cut after Arafat signed the 1993 Oslo accords with Israel on limited Palestinian autonomy.
After talks in Gaza with French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, Arafat flew to Jordan for a one-day visit, to be followed by a postponed two-day official visit to Syria.
"I agreed with Mr. Vedrine and (the EU special envoy Miguel) Moratinos to have the meeting (with Peres) on my return from this visit," Arafat told reporters in Gaza after a two-hour meeting with Vedrine.
Arafat said he and Moratinos had waited to meet Peres at the Gaza airport on Sunday, "and Peres did not come," the paper said.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Peres met Monday morning in an attempt to iron out the differences between them, which are linked to Peres' desire to meet with Arafat and Sharon's cancellation on several occasions of such meetings, said Haaretz newspaper.
Sharon and Peres agreed that the foreign minister would not meet Arafat on Monday and that the meeting should be put off for another 48 hours, it said.
A senior Sharon aide said Monday that the drive-by killing of an Israeli woman had again reset the 48-hour clock for a Arafat-Peres truce meeting - something for which US officials are fervently pressing amid vocal objections and threats by right-wing politicians.
Sharon has demanded 48 hours of quiet in the territories before the meeting can take place.
Salit Shitreet, 28 was killed while driving with her husband near the Shadmot Mehola settlement in the Jordan Valley.
Her husband was uninjured by the dozens of rounds fired at the car, but was reported to be in shock.
The military wing of the Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack.
The killing shattered one of the quietest 24-hour periods since the Palestinian uprising broke out nearly a year ago.
A serious cabinet crisis was eased overnight when Sharon agreed to reverse a veto on the meeting, and gave a green light to Peres-Arafat talks to have taken place Monday night.
Peres said Monday afternoon he hoped the meeting with Arafat would take place in the course of this week, according to AFP.
Referring to the attack, he added that the "harsh" and "exceptional" incidents could occur in the future as well, emphasizing that the attack had been carried out by Islamic Jihad.
"We will demand from Arafat that he exercise his authority with regard to Hamas and Islamic Jihad as well," Peres said.
As a result of the Sharon-Peres compromise, a meeting between Labor Party ministers and the prime minister, scheduled for noon on Monday, was cancelled, Haaretz said.
The dispute over the Peres-Arafat meeting threatened to reignite the most serious coalition crisis since Sharon forged the unity government in early March.
According to the paper, most Labor ministers feel that the meeting should take place soon, despite the attack. Transport Minister Ephraim Sneh told Israel Radio that achieving a ceasefire was the aim of the meeting, not a condition for it taking place.
He said that it would be incorrect to allow every Palestinian with a gun to hold the two sides hostage - Albawaba.com
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