Israel: steps toward peace

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is likely to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the next few weeks, Israeli Foreign Minister &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Silvan Shalom said on Monday.

The two sides are close to agreeing terms for a planned Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Gaza Strip, giving impetus to the meeting, Shalom told a news conference. "We are trying very hard to move forward with the Palestinians. We are very close to the implementation of this disengagement plan which will start on August 16 or 17," he said.

"We are trying now to set up a meeting with Prime Minister Sharon and President Mahmoud Abbas and it might take place in a short time ... in a few weeks, and if it will take place I think it will take place maybe in Jerusalem."

He said the main purpose of the meeting would be to coordinate the &to=http:// 22/98/387/12527_BushSharon.html ' target=_blank>disengagement plan.

Shalom was in Luxembourg for a meeting of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership, an initiative by the European Union to strengthen its ties with its Mediterranean neighbors, tells Reuters.

According to the Guardian Unlimited, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the Cabinet decision to free 400 prisoners was ``part of Israel's effort to help Abu Mazen (Abbas) and the moderate Palestinian forces.''

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