Israel has approved the resumption of diplomatic talks with the Palestinians following a lull in militant attacks since Mahmoud Abbas took over as president. It is the latest boost for peace hopes in the Middle East. There were, however, strong words from Palestinian Premier Ahmed Qurie today, speaking amid reports that Israeli troops guarding a Jewish settlement had shot dead a three-year-old girl.
“It is one of our basic requests that Israel stops all its aggression, its arrests, assassinations and incursions,” he said. The new contacts aim initially to co-ordinate the planned Israeli withdrawal from Gaza this year, according to Israel’s Vice Premier Shimon Peres.
“We cannot disengage ourselves from Gaza without having an agreement with the Palestinian reference, the Palestinian Authority,” he said. “So, in fact, we are beginning the second stage of the unilateral disengagement, which means, in fact, a bilateral disengagement.”
Already posted in the north of Gaza, Palestinian police are gearing up for a mass deployment in the south, in a bid to enforce a ceasefire. They were awaiting the opening of a major checkpoint by Israeli forces. It is due to be unblocked later today. Senior Israeli and Palestinian negotiators meanwhile ended the first round of high-level diplomatic talks. They will reconvene next week to prepare for a summit between Mahmoud Abbas and the Israeli leader Ariel Sharon.