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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 February, 2005, 14:10 GMT
Q&A: Mid-East summit
Summit preparation
The summit could send Israeli-Palestinian ties in a new direction
The Israeli and Palestinian leaders have met in the Egyptian resort of Sharm al-Sheikh, the first such occasion after nearly four years of bloodshed. The BBC News website looks at the significance of the summit.

What has the summit achieved?

It has been a summit for speeches and lofty declarations rather than the hammering out of contentious issues.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced a cessation of violence against Israelis wherever they are - formalising an informal ceasefire agreed last month with Palestinian militant groups. "The calm which will prevail in our lands starting from today is the beginning of a new era," Mr Abbas said.

He also urged all sides, Israel, Arab allies and the international community, to intensify their efforts to implement the peace plan known as the roadmap and "protect the newborn opportunity of peace".

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared a more nuanced position - saying that, if there is quiet from the Palestinian side, the Israeli army would not stage any raids into their territory.

But he also issued an impassioned pledge to the Palestinians.

"I assure you that we have a genuine intention to respect your rights to live independently and in dignity... I have already said that Israel has no desire to continue to govern over you and control your fate," Mr Sharon said.

What has brought the two sides together?

This summit is happening less than a month after Mahmoud Abbas was elected president of the Palestinian Authority.

In that time he has managed to persuade the Palestinian militant organisations to stick to an informal ceasefire. In return Israel has scaled back its military operations in the Palestinian territories.

That brief lull, and Israel's endorsement of the Palestinians' choice to replace Yasser Arafat, have opened the way for the summit.

What are the challenges ahead?

The two sides have set up committees to address the issues of Israel releasing Palestinian detainees and pulling troops back from the Palestinian towns in the West Bank.

If the ceasefire holds it could set in motion a return to substantive peace negotiations on a final settlement, though this is some way off.

This process could be bolstered by an apparently revitalised level of US engagement during President George W Bush's second term. This re-engagement is a direct result of the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and Mr Abbas' success at temporarily restraining the militants.

Meanwhile, Israel is set to press on with its unilateral plan to withdraw troops and settlers from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.

The hope is that this disengagement will help stimulate progress. But many Palestinians feel that Israel sees the Gaza withdrawal as a means of strengthening its hold on areas of the occupied West Bank where most of its settlers live.

Is this the beginning of the end of the conflict?

Not necessarily, despite the fine words uttered in Sharm al-Sheikh.

The informal ceasefire could be a hostage to either side's impatience or provocation. Israel is suspicious of anything that isn't the comprehensive disarmament of militant groups. Palestinians suspect Israel is getting what it wants - cessation of violence - without having to make any concessions on its military occupation of their territory.

The resolution of all the difficult issues which divide them remains a long way in the future.

What is new, and the main source of renewed hope, is the apparent determination of all sides to get somewhere this time.


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