Sharon rules out peace talks with Palestinians
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon Monday ruled out peace talks with Palestinians and vowed to pursue unilateral moves that would deny them land for a state as long as they kept up attacks on Israelis.
Sharon canceled a summit tentatively set for Tuesday with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie, which would have been the first such high-level talks in eight months, after a double suicide bombing in one of Israel's most strategic installations.
The Palestinian Authority says it seeks a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, territories Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East war, under a U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan sidelined by persistent violence.
Sharon, in a speech to parliament, reaffirmed his commitment to a controversial, go-it-alone "Disengagement Plan" after calling off the summit in the wake of Sunday's bombings which killed 10 people in the port of Ashdod.
Israel staged air raids on suspected Hamas targets in Gaza earlier Monday and planned to escalate strikes on militant leaders in retaliation for the bombing, the first fatal attack on a strategic asset in a three-year-old Palestinian revolt.
"Until ... Palestinians understand that ceasing terror is in their own interest, Israel will be forced to act as it sees fit," Sharon said.
Palestinian Negotiations Minister Saeb Erekat described Sharon's decision as very unfortunate. "The language of dictation has proven to be fatal and wrong since 1967," he said.
"It is only the future of the Palestinian people that the Israeli government refuses to talk to the Palestinians about," Erekat told Reuters, responding to Sharon's address.
Sharon has pledged that if peace efforts remained at an impasse, he would take go-it-alone steps that would involve a withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank but also cost Palestinians large swathes of land they want for a state.
Israel blames Palestinians' failure to rein in militants for the impasse in peacemaking. Palestinians say Israel's military crackdowns and a new West Bank barrier due to take in settlement blocs only increase militants' motivation.
Sharon said he attached importance to coordinating any unilateral steps Israel takes with its allies, primarily the United States. "We intend to continue these consultations soon."
After his speech, Sharon won the backing of 45 deputies present compared to 45 against in a nonbinding vote to press on with his plan, which faces resistance from settlers and their patrons within Sharon's own party and rightist coalition allies.
The bombing in the heavily guarded Ashdod port was also the first deadly attack by militants from Gaza, which is fenced off from Israel, since the Palestinian uprising began in 2000.
The ensuing missile strike destroyed two Gaza foundries the army said made arms for militants. Security sources said it would be followed by harsher reprisals.
The Islamic group Hamas and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed faction of the mainstream Palestinian movement Fatah, claimed joint responsibility for Sunday's bombing, saying it was to avenge Israel's recent killings of militants.