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 Friday, 10 January, 2003, 01:39 GMT
Sharon rival offers land for peace
Mr Mitzna (l) and Mr Blair(r)
Mitzna and Blair want to relaunch peace talks
Israel's opposition leader Amram Mitzna has said the time is right for Israel to make some concessions to the Palestinians - even if they are "sensitive and painful".

Mr Mitzna, the dovish leader of Israel's Labour Party, held talks in London on Thursday with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.

I think we'll give at least one year for negotiations. If it fails, then we'll unilaterally leave some areas

Amram Mitzna

Speaking on the BBC's Newsnight programme after the meeting, he said that if elected in Israel's forthcoming elections, he would restart negotiations with the Palestinians.

"We have to separate ourselves from the Palestinians. We're going to withdraw settlements from Gaza," he said.

Israeli forces would also pull out of some remote settlements in the West Bank, he said.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
Mitzna did not rule out talks with Yasser Arafat

"I think we'll give at least one year for negotiations. If it fails, then we'll unilaterally leave some areas that it's not worthwhile to be in," Mr Mitzna said.

Mr Mitzna did not ruled out talks with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

"I'm sure most Israelis do believe it is time to make concessions - sensitive and painful," he told the BBC.

With the elections less than three weeks away Mr Mitzna has been gaining ground in opinion polls.

Mounting anger

Mr Blair's decision to meet him is reported to have irritated Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Correspondents say Mr Sharon's government believes Mr Blair's move amounts to interference in the Israeli elections.

Rescue workers and bystanders attend to an injured woman
The latest suicide attack killed 24 people in Tel Aviv
Last month, Israeli Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu - a fellow Likud Party member - was refused a meeting with Mr Blair when he visited London.

Mr Sharon recently announced his refusal to let Palestinian officials attend a conference planned in London next week, to examine how the Palestinian Authority could be reformed.

He imposed the ban after a double suicide bombing in Tel Aviv at the weekend, which killed 24 people and injured dozens of others.

Sharon lashes out

Mr Sharon lambasted the Labour Party on Thursday, in a speech in which he defended himself against allegations of wrongdoing over a $1.5m loan.

But in an unprecedented move, election officials ordered Israeli broadcasters to cut short the live transmission, deeming it too political.

In contrast, Mr Mitzna was in a conciliatory mood on Thursday.

He said he understood why Mr Sharon had decided to ban the Palestinian delegation's trip.

"I can understand why Prime Minister Sharon has taken such a decision after the terrorist attack in Tel Aviv just a few days ago," Mr Mitzna said.

"It's very difficult to explain how to back Palestinians who are not even trying to fight terrorism."

Of his hour-long meeting with Mr Blair, Mr Mitzna said: "We both agreed that there is a necessity to resume negotiations side-by-side with fighting terrorism."


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20 Nov 02 | Middle East
21 Nov 02 | profiles
08 Jan 03 | Politics
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