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Wednesday, 2 January, 2002, 13:29 GMT
Sharon veto sparks row with president
Palestinian youth in the West Bank town of Ramallah
The president wanted to propose a year-long ceasefire
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been trying to ease tensions with President Moshe Katsav, after quashing a proposal for Mr Katsav to visit the West Bank town of Ramallah.

The president, whose post is largely ceremonial, wanted to address the Palestinian Legislative Council and propose a year-long ceasefire to end 15 months of fighting.

But the plan was vetoed on Sunday by Mr Sharon, and Israeli media quoted government officials as calling the proposal "stupid" and a "trap aimed at legitimising [Palestinian leader] Yasser Arafat".

According to Israeli radio, Mr Sharon spoke to the president late on Sunday expressing regret over the media reports.

Israel President Moshe Katsav
Moshe Katsav: disappointed by the prime minister's veto

Earlier the prime minister's office issued a statement saying the comments were never made.

But in his telephone call to the president, Mr Sharon also insisted that a visit to Ramallah would harm Israel's interests.

He said there was no point in visiting the West Bank town when those responsible for the killing of the Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Ze'evi last October were still at large.

A statement from the president's office said Mr Katsav would respect the prime minister's decision but would continue to show interest in all initiatives that could bring an end to the blood-letting.

He said he felt the initiative should be discussed in depth, because it entailed no diplomatic concessions or preconditions.

However, Prime Minister Sharon has been reluctant to consider conciliatory gestures at this stage, arguing Yasser Arafat must do more to end the attacks against Israel.

Controversy

A public address to the Palestinians by Israel's president would have been seen as highly significant.

The Israeli president - an essentially honorary and neutral figure - gets rarely involved in policy-making.

But Mr Katsav, a member of Mr Sharon's right-wing Likud Party, has provoked debate before.

He intervened unsuccessfully on 23 December when Mr Sharon banned Yasser Arafat from making his traditional visit to Bethlehem for Christmas mass.

He also caused a stir recently when he attended a ceremony in northern Israel commemorating two Arab-Israelis killed by police during protests in October 2000.

See also:

31 Dec 01 | Middle East
Anger over Gaza killings
30 Dec 01 | Middle East
Israel sees peace hope
15 Nov 01 | Media reports
Israeli president's letter to Palestinians
01 Aug 00 | Middle East
Katsav sworn in amid controversy
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