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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 May, 2003, 17:36 GMT 18:36 UK
Abu Mazen sets out peace hopes

The new Palestinian prime minister has urged Israel to accept the "roadmap" to peace and said a final settlement must include the right of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel.

Abu Mazen
Abu Mazen: A man the US can do business with

In his first broadcast interview since he took office, Mahmoud Abbas - more commonly known as Abu Mazen - rejected Israel's condition that the Palestinians drop the right of return for refugees.

"The refugee issue is a final status issue, so it should be kept for the final status phase... Why should I drop the refugees' right to return? I do not have this right," he told the Palestinian satellite television channel.

He reiterated his call to abandon the Palestinian armed struggle, saying "we do not want to use weapons in our resistance against Israel now".

"We want a period of calm so that our people can catch their breath, improve their situation and rebuild what has been destroyed."

Abu Mazen took office last week - a move that followed intense US pressure to loosen Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's grip on power.

US diplomacy

US Secretary of State Colin Powell is expected to arrive in Israel on Saturday to revive the moribund peace process using the new "roadmap" - backed by the US, Russia, European Union and United Nations - as a framework.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell
Colin Powell: Seeking to end the violence

Abu Mazen said there was "a big question mark on the roadmap for one important reason - that is, Israel does not want to implement it".

In contrast, he said, the Palestinian side had no reservations about the roadmap.

The roadmap envisages a Palestinian state by 2005 and calls for a halt to Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank and Gaza - territories seized by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

"If Israel agrees on implementing it... we will then achieve a result," Abu Mazen said.

He said he was ready for a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and contacts were under way with the Israeli Government.

Mr Sharon said on Tuesday he would be "happy to meet with Abu Mazen".

Palestinian children in Shatila refugee camp, Beirut
Palestinian refugees: Israel does not want them back

But he also told Israel Radio that Israel would not recognise a Palestinian state unless the Palestinians abandoned their insistence on the right of return for refugees.

Israel also wants to see Abu Mazen curb violence before it eases restrictions on the Palestinians.

US President George W Bush is determined to "move aggressively and energetically" towards a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to his special envoy, Assistant Secretary of State William Burns.

Mr Burns was speaking on Monday after talks in the West Bank town of Ramallah with Abu Mazen.

The appointment of Abu Mazen was America's key condition for proceeding with the peace plan.




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