Israel, PA said to have agreed on basis of peace deal

By Haaretz Service and agencies

Haaretz

Kislev 25, 5765

Palestinians and Israelis have agreed in principle to proposals which could serve as the basis of a comprehensive settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conmflict, Egypt's official news agency MENA said on Tuesday.

Egypt's official news agency said that significant progress had been made in international efforts to end Israeli-Palestinian violence. But both sides to the conflict termed talk of a deal premature.

Quoting unidentified high-level sources, MENA said the steps, including an Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire, had the support of both the United States and the European Union.

"High-level sources confirmed an important understanding -- reaching the point of an agreement in principle -- has been completed between Egypt, Israel, the Palestinians and several active international parties, America and Europe, regarding a comprehensive settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian struggle," MENA said.

It said points under discussion included a Palestinian commitment to stop operations against Israel and to control Gaza and the West Bank, while Israel would stop military actions as long as the Palestinian commitment held.

"(Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon does not find it necessary to sign a ceasefire agreement until the security and administrative capabilities of the Palestinian Authority are rebuilt gradually," the report said.

The understanding could lead to a "comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," MENA said.

Israel and Palestinians term report premature
Israel termed the report "a little premature," but said it would respond positively if militants ceased attacks.

"There are a few correct elements but it's a little premature to say there's an agreement," a senior official in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office said. "We will respond positively if on the other side there will be arrangements for a ceasefire, a cessation of hostilities."

"However, it should be understood that whatever arrangement is reached, this is not a substitute for fulfilling the obligations the Palestinians have taken upon themselves under the road map," the official said.

Palestinian officials, playing down the MENA report, said the Palestinian Authority and militants were close to an understanding on a ceasefire, but more talks were needed.

Palestinian sources were further quoted as saying that reports of an Israeli-PA truce agreement were inexact, but gave no further details.

There was no immediate official comment from Egypt, which has tried to play the role of mediator in previous efforts to ease Israeli-Palestinian violence.

There has been a dramatic warming in Israeli-Egyptian relations in recent days, capped by the release on Sunday of Israeli Druze Azzam Azzam after eight years in an Egyptian prison on espionage charges.

Egypt may return ambassador to Tel Aviv soon
Earlier on Tuesday, MENA, quoting senior Egyptian sources, reported that Egypt will return its ambassador to Israel in the near future.

The sources told the news agency on Tuesday that "the new spirit in relations (between the two countries) opens the door for his return."

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed abu Ghreit said prior to departing for Kuwait that the return of the ambassador is subject to a decision by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and is dependent upon "Israel responding to Palestinian hopes regarding the peace process."