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Palestinian PM says ready to meet Sharon
( 2003-11-02 10:52) (Agencies)

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie said on Saturday he was willing to take up Israeli leader Ariel Sharon's offer to meet for talks on reviving a U.S.-backed peace plan battered by violence.

Signaling an apparent softening in Israel's position, Sharon said on Thursday he was ready to negotiate with Qurie once the Palestinian prime minister had consolidated his position.

Qurie is locked in a dispute with President Yasser Arafat over the composition of the cabinet and security powers and is trying to form a government to replace an emergency cabinet whose 30-day term expires on Tuesday.

Qurie said no date had been set for a meeting. But asked about the possibility that he would hold talks with the rightwing Israeli prime minister, he told reporters: "We are not against (it)."

After Arafat nominated Qurie as prime minister in September, Israel suggested it would not deal with him because it saw him as Arafat's lackey. Israel says Arafat incites militant attacks on Israelis, a charge he denies.

Qurie came in for praise as a man of peace from Israeli opposition Labour Party leader Shimon Peres who addressed a memorial ceremony for assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on the eighth anniversary of his death.

Packing a main square in Tel Aviv, some 100,000 Israelis listened to songs and speeches recalling the heady days of peacemaking a decade ago as they honored Rabin.

"He (Qurie) believes terrorism must be stopped for the good of the Palestinians, that peace must be achieved and compromises made," Peres said in the square where Rabin was shot by an ultranationalist Jew opposed to his peace efforts.

"He is a man of deeds, someone with whom it is possible to hold a serious dialogue," Peres, Israel's leading dove, said about Qurie at the ceremony, where leftwing groups raised banners demanding that Israel withdraw from occupied land.


It was anyone's guess whether the larger-than-usual crowd at the annual ceremony was a protest at the daubing of swastikas on a Rabin monument at the site on Friday or the resurgence of an Israeli "peace camp" deflated by three years of violence.

In the latest bloodshed, Israeli forces shot and killed two Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinian security officials said.

A Palestinian motorcyclist died in hospital after being shot by Israeli soldiers at a roadblock near the West Bank city of Nablus. The army said he was shot after trying to flee and ignoring shouts to stop.

Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip killed a Palestinian near the border fence with Israel, Palestinian security officials said. Israeli military sources said two Palestinians trying to plant explosives were hit by Israeli fire in the night-time incident, but they could not confirm any deaths until daylight.

Persistent violence during the Palestinian uprising and the failure of both sides to meet key commitments have stalled the peace "road map" the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations presented in April.

The plan calls for an end to bloodshed and the start of confidence-building measures, such as a Palestinian crackdown on militants and a freeze in Jewish settlement expansion, leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2005.

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