Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will meet with new Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas next month to try to end a Palestinian uprising and resume peacemaking, both sides said Saturday.
The meeting in the second week in February will coincide with a planned visit by new Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The announcement follows a sharp drop in violence and an Israeli pledge to reduce military operations in Palestinian areas.
Sharon’s spokesman, David Baker, said the objective of the talks was to “make progress between both sides, contingent on continued efforts by the Palestinians to prevent terrorism to Israel.”
Violence declined last week after Abbas deployed his security forces in the Gaza Strip. Abbas is also negotiating with militants for a cease-fire.
Israel has said it would reduce its military operations in response to Abbas’ actions.
At their meeting, Abbas plans to ask Sharon for further steps, such as halting construction of Jewish settlements and Israel’s West Bank barrier, which cuts into land Palestinians want for an independent state, Palestinian Cabinet minister Ghassan Khatib said.
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and former Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan met Saturday in Tel Aviv to discuss the possible cease-fire, as well as further security coordination.
Even though Palestinian attacks on Israelis have declined, violence broke out Saturday between two rival Palestinian groups in the Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza.
A Palestinian official said that a supporter of the Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization opened fire at a political rally held by the rival Hamas group, sparking a melee that left more than 25 people injured.
Hamas called the rally to celebrate its victories in municipal elections in Gaza. Hamas’ strong showing dealt a setback to Fatah, which Abbas heads.
The Palestinian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Hamas supporters had chanted victory slogans, angering Fatah supporters.
A Fatah supporter opened fire, seriously wounding one Hamas supporter and causing shrapnel wounds to four others, the official said.