The Jerusalem summit that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon held for the first time in four months is widely reported to be vain.
The summit failed to propel peace prospects forward or solidify a shaky truce, leaving main issues unresolved and both sides disappointed, leaving a chilly atmoshere, reports AP.
The Abbas-Sharon summit was supposed to ensure Israel's withdrawal from Gaza proceeds smoothly and peacefully. But the meeting itself left it doubtful as to whether the Palestinian and Israeli leaders can work together on the pullout.
Palestinian officials said the meeting left them frustrated at the lack of progress.
According to Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, "this was a difficult meeting, and did not live up to the expectations" of the Palestinian side. Palestinians were hoping for concrete results, like the release of more prisoners and easing of Israel's West Bank security restrictions.
Nevertheless, Israel reported some progress. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he and Mahmoud Abbas "agreed during the meeting on full coordination of our exit from Gaza," but he did not offer details. Israeli officials said Sharon also offered to hand over control of two more West Bank towns to the Palestinians and would consider releasing more prisoners if the Palestinians take steps to end violence.
The tense atmosphere at the meeting was even stressed, when the Abbas and Sharon did not hold a joint news conference after it, and Abbas did not address the media on his own, as scheduled, sending his prime minister instead.
Sharon gave Abbas permission to begin preparations for reopening Gaza's airport and harbor. The opening of the ports is seen as key to reducing Gaza's isolation once Israel pulls out of the coastal strip this summer. Sharon also told Abbas that Israel would hand over the West Bank towns of Qalqiliya and Bethlehem to Palestinian control in two weeks, if the Palestinians take steps to stop attacks. Israel also would consider releasing additional prisoners and allowing Palestinians deported for involvement in violence to return, Israeli officials said.
At the same time Israeli army continued their crack down on Islamic Jihad militants. As the meeting opened, an Israeli aircraft fired two missiles at an abandoned structure in the northern Gaza Strip. Just hours after the summit, early Wednesday, Israel ended a raid, during which 11 Islamic Jihad militants were captured. An Islamic Jihad militant in the city of Tulkarem in the West Bank said that the clashes took place between Israeli soldiers and militants of his group as an Israeli army force raided the village of Qufer Raie at pre-dawn, reports Xinhuanet.
Meanwhile, residents of Tulkarem said that the Israeli army troops who raided the city in the early morning searched civilian houses and destroyed their furniture and houses contents and detained two Palestinians. Another Israeli army unit raided the village of Al-Rashaydeh, east of Bethlehem, destroying cattle farms belonging to Palestinian villagers after claiming their livestock were grazing in areas considered closed to Israeli military zones.