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Last Updated: Sunday, 28 November, 2004, 22:30 GMT
Sharon and Abbas 'ready to meet'
Mahmoud Abbas
Mahmoud Abbas is favourite to succeed Yasser Arafat
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said he is ready to meet Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

He told US magazine Newsweek he would seek to co-ordinate the withdrawal of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip.

Mr Abbas told the same magazine he was willing to meet Mr Sharon, but said Israel must let the Palestinians build up the security infrastructure in Gaza.

Two Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops in the southern Gaza Strip on Sunday, medical officials said.

One of those killed was a doctor hit by tank fire in the Rafah refugee camp and the other a suspected militant, according to Palestinian hospital personnel..

Israeli officials said troops opened fire on suspects approaching a restricted area near the Egyptian border.

'Every effort'

Mr Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, told Newsweek that Israel must allow the Palestinians to re-establish their own security in Gaza before the settlers' withdrawal.

He is the candidate of the dominant Fatah faction in the 9 January elections in the Palestinian territories to choose a replacement for Yasser Arafat as president.

Ariel Sharon
Ariel Sharon's Gaza withdrawal plan is unpopular with settler groups

He has already replaced Mr Arafat as Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) chairman and is now favourite to succeed him as president.

Mr Abbas said: "After the elections, I'm ready to meet at any time with Sharon.

"We are ready to take Gaza when we rebuild our security apparatus... I'm working very hard to rebuild the security apparatus."

But he added that as a former Palestinian prime minister he had delivered on a ceasefire, but there had been nothing from Israel in return.

For his part, Mr Sharon said: "When they would like to meet, we will meet.

"I am going to make every effort to co-ordinate our disengagement plan with the new Palestinian government - one that can assume control over areas we evacuate."

He added that Israel would keep its troops away from Palestinian towns during the January poll "to enable them to conduct their elections with as little interference as possible".




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