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Thursday, 3 May, 2001, 18:31 GMT 19:31 UK
Bush gives Peres hope for peace
Ariel Sharon at West Bank Jewish settlement of Ofra
Mr Sharon wants to hold on to part of the West Bank
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres says he is reassured about US commitment to peacemaking in the Middle East following talks with President Bush in Washington.

Mr Peres has been discussing a joint Egyptian-Jordanian plan to stop the current violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

He [Bush] doesn't want to impose - he wants to help

Shimon Peres, Israeli foreign minister
He left the meeting saying Mr Bush had told him he was happy to act as a facilitator to peace moves, but did not want to impose a deal.

Mr Peres again used conciliatory words towards the Palestinians, saying that the Israelis were not fighting them as a people but only those he referred to as the enemies of peace.

"I think we see eye to eye on how to handle the situation," he said of the president.

"I am leaving the Oval Office... with a sense that we can move ahead in the direction of peace."

Mr Peres' conciliatory words in Washington are in sharp contrast to those of Israel's Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon.

Shimon Peres
Mr Peres saw "eye to eye" with the president
Mr Sharon has pledged to hold on to the Jordan valley - a large part of the West Bank - while authorising the Israeli army to do whatever is necessary to end the violence.

Hostilities, he says, must cease before peace talks with the Palestinians can resume.

Nearly 500 people, many of them Israeli but the majority Palestinian, have been killed in clashes since last September.

The organisations subject to Arafat... understand that they have a green light to continue attacks against Israel

Ariel Sharon's office
Some analysts believe that Mr Peres and Mr Sharon are playing a deliberate double act - talking tough while exploring the options for peace.

Mr Peres has called Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat Israel's "partner", but Mr Sharon says he is responsible for attacks on Israelis.

'Knock it off'

Mr Bush has made clear since coming to power in January that he will not assume the high-profile peacemaking role of his predecessor, Bill Clinton.

A Palestinian collects her belongings after her house was destroyed by bulldozers
Israeli bulldozers forced their way into Rafah
His Secretary of State, Colin Powell, who Mr Peres met on Wednesday, again said dialogue could only get under way after a significant reduction in violence.

"Gotta knock it off if you want to get back to discussions on permanent solutions and peace," he said.

The State Department had earlier condemned Israel's latest incursion into the Gaza Strip, but at the same time urged the Palestinians to end mortar attacks from areas under their control.

Israeli troops with tanks and bulldozers had forced their way into a Palestinian-controlled area of Gaza on Wednesday, destroying at least 10 refugee homes and causing residents to flee.

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See also:

01 May 01 | Middle East
Another two die in Mideast violence
27 Apr 01 | Middle East
Israel considers peace plan response
27 Apr 01 | Middle East
Jerusalem's beleaguered tourist trade
25 Apr 01 | Middle East
Gaza blast kills four
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