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Palestinian: Bush, Abbas visit a success
( 2003-07-27 11:25) (Agencies)

A top Palestinian official on Saturday called the meeting between Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and President Bush a success and urged Israel to move quickly to implement the U.S.-backed Mideast peace plan.

Information Minister Nabil Amr also called on Israel to release more Palestinian prisoners and said the Palestinian Authority is ready to take over West Bank cities still under Israel control.

"I consider this visit as a successful one, and I do hope the Israelis will fulfill their commitments," Amr said. "It's not easy to solve all these problems in just one visit to Washington."

As Abbas met with Bush in Washington on Friday, Israel announced it would transfer two West Bank towns to Palestinian control and remove three roadblocks in Palestinian areas.

Israeli media reports Saturday said the government was preparing to release more Palestinian militants from prison, a key demand of the Palestinians, but the office of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon refused to confirm that.

An Israeli army spokesman said Saturday that the troop pullouts would not be announced in advance. The cities to be handed over and the timing are to be discussed at a meeting between the Israeli defense minister and his Palestinian counterpart within days. Israel media reports said one of them would be Jericho.

Further handovers of cities and the dismantling of roadblocks are among moves demanded by the Palestinian Authority as important steps in implementing the "road map" peace plan.
So far, Israel has pulled troops out of parts of the Gaza Strip and from the West Bank town of Bethlehem, but has been reluctant to do more until the Palestinian Authority cracks down on militant groups. The road map calls for disarming the militants, but Abbas is refusing to try to do that by force.

The Palestinians are pushing for a mass release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Israel has released 250, and media reports Saturday said Sharon would present a plan to his Cabinet on Sunday to release several hundred more, including 100 members of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant groups.

Amr said he hoped to see more than 600 prisoners released soon, including members of militant groups. Israeli officials have suggested militants could be released, but the government refuses to free anyone directly involved in attacks that have killed hundreds of Israelis over the past three years.

After their meeting Friday, Bush expressed strong support for Abbas and said he would bring up Palestinian demands when he meets with Sharon in Washington on Tuesday.

Bush also spoke strongly against the security barrier that Sharon's government is building near the separation line between Israel and the West Bank. The Palestinians have demanded Israel tear down the uncompleted fence, which is to curve deeply into the West Bank in some areas.

A cease-fire declared by Palestinian militants on June 29 has greatly reduced bloodshed, but progress has been slow on the peace plan, which is a blueprint for ending violence and creating a Palestinian state by 2005.

Abbas is under heavy political pressure to win Israeli concessions as a way of generating Palestinian public support for the peace plan and bolstering his own flagging political backing.

His red-carpet treatment in Washington was designed to show U.S. support for the premier, who was appointed in April after Israeli and U.S. pressure for an alternative to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Israel and the United States accuse Arafat of supporting terrorism and undermining peace moves.

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