Ariel Sharon: Israel ready to talk to Palestinians even if attacks continue

Ariel Sharon, Israeli Prime Minister: "We are ready to start negotiations with Palestine even if terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens do not stop. We have to do this, in the light of the current situation."

Sharon is ready to talk peace "under fire" - this statement was hardly expected by anyone, all the more so this day, which has already been dubbed "the bloodiest" in the history of Intifada. Different sources report 40 to 60 people killed today, and the number of injured runs into hundreds.

Israeli army continues its offensive near Bethlehem and Beit-Jala. At night, their helicopters fired missiles upon targets in Nablus and destroyed several buildings in han0Unis refugee camp in Gaza. The Israeli offensive follows a proven scheme, when battle tanks occupy commanding heights to cover bulldozers, which raze buildings and bridges, while special operations teams conduct searches and arrests. In the light of such events, it is no wonder that Arabs approach Sharon's initiatives with care, to say the least.

Nabil Abu Rudaini, advisor to Yasser Arafat: "First of all, if this is a serious statement, Israel should cease its aggression immediately. Does Sharon really think we are going to negotiate while Israeli troops are killing our citizens?"

Analysts are unanimous in giving the reasons for such a radical change in Sharon's stance: the "current situation" he was talking about is the comeback of American envoy Gen. Anthony Zinni to the Middle East. This will be his third attempt to make the belligerent parties sit behind a negotiations table, and there is little doubt that in the course of his mission, both the Arabs and Israelis will be trying to earn as many points as possible.

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