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Friday, 22 February, 2002, 05:43 GMT
Palestinians dismiss Sharon speech
Israeli soldier at Zurda checkpoint
Dialogue seems further away than ever
Palestinian leaders have dismissed a speech by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in which he promised to create separation zones to defend Israelis from Palestinian attacks.

Ariel Sharon
Sharon: Two-stage plan for peace
A Palestinian minister, Nabil Shaath, said the speech offered no hope and a key negotiator in talks between the two sides, Saeb Erekat, said Mr Sharon was determined to pursue war.

As Mr Sharon spoke Israeli helicopter gunships resumed fire at Palestinian targets, hitting security buildings in Gaza City and in Rafah further south.

At least 20 people were injured in the attacks late on Thursday evening, according to Palestinian hospital sources.

Mr Shaath said that Mr Sharon's plan "offered no hope... and opened no way to ending the confrontation and heading back to the peace table".

Buffer zones

Mr Sharon said on Thursday he would do anything to bring about a ceasefire with the Palestinians.

Peace is achievable only when the needs of all people are recognised and fulfilled ... the fuel for attacks against Israel would be removed and the fire of violence extinguished

"I shall do everything possible to meet Palestinian officials... and prevent a slide into total war," he said.

But, in an address to the nation, he also said he would win what he described as Israel's war on terrorism.

Mr Sharon presented a two-stage plan for peace, which included the full demilitarisation of the Palestinian territories as a prelude to a ceasefire.

But the BBC Jerusalem correspondent says there was nothing new about the strategy he outlined.

UN concerns

Responding to Mr Sharon's speech, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan warned that the Middle East was "nearing the edge of the abyss" and urged Israel and the Palestinians to put their faith in negotiations.

Enlarge image Enlarge map
Map of the West Bank and Gaza

Mr Annan told a meeting of the UN Security Council in New York that Israeli moves to tighten security would not address the problem if there was no political progress.

"Security cannot be dealt with in isolation," he said.

He listed as key issues to be tackled the questions of land and the Palestinians' economic and social difficulties.

Given the mistrust between the sides, Mr Annan added, it was imperative that a third party should be involved in peace talks. He gave no details.

Kofi Annan
Annan: Security alone not enough
The UN Security Council is due to hold a public debate on the Middle East next week.

Mr Annan's call was echoed by the United States State Department, which urged both the Israelis and the Palestinians to do their "utmost" to avoid an escalation of violence.

"At this critical moment we urge both Israel and the Palestinian Authority to consider their actions and the consequences very carefully," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

Days of violence

The peace calls come after fierce fighting sparked by the killing of six Israeli soldiers in an ambush in Gaza on Tuesday:

  • Israeli helicopters attacked targets in Nablus and Ramallah in the West Bank, and in Rafah and Gaza City
  • Tanks and infantry moved into Gaza and demolished the home of a suicide bomber who killed an Israeli woman and two soldiers on Monday.
  • Israeli forces seized the building of the Voice of Palestine TV and radio headquarters in the eastern suburbs of Gaza City and detonated explosives.
  • Warplanes fired missiles at a Palestinian security building in the Khan Younis refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. There were no reports of casualties.
  • Another 10 Palestinians were wounded elsewhere in the Gaza Strip.

The BBC's James Reynolds
"There are moves within the leadership on both sides to stop the violence"
Sharon's senior adviser, Dore Gold
"All Israelis want peace"
Chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat
"I'm really much more scared tonight"
Middle East Institute's Tamara Wittes
"This proposal is only going to inflame matters"
See also:

21 Feb 02 | Middle East
Israelis look for key to peace
20 Feb 02 | Middle East
Dissent in the ranks
18 Feb 02 | Middle East
Israel reservists back occupation end
25 Jan 02 | Middle East
Yasser Arafat's dilemma
16 Feb 02 | Middle East
Israel's history of bomb blasts
02 Dec 01 | profiles
Who are the suicide bombers?
15 Feb 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
Arafat: Down but not out
20 Feb 02 | Middle East
Fear and pride in Ramallah
20 Feb 02 | Middle East
Palestinian militants 'change tactics'
21 Feb 02 | Middle East
Testing time for Sharon
21 Feb 02 | Middle East
Divided voices over MidEast
21 Feb 02 | Middle East
Sharon speech: More of the same
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