Summit on Track Despite Terror Attacks, Palestinian Frustrations

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israel has continuously urged the Palestinian Authority to fight terrorism if it wants to make "genuine progress" toward peace. But given the spate of attacks in the past 24 hours, the terrorists apparently have no intention of stopping their efforts to thwart the rocky peace process.

And with next week's Israel-Palestinian summit meeting looming, the Palestinians have expressed frustration with Israel's offer to release 900 security prisoners. The offer does not go far enough, they say. The Palestinians want many more prisoners released -- including some whom Israel describes as having blood on their hands.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas are scheduled to meet on Tuesday in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is hosting the summit, which Jordan's King Abdullah also will attend.

Sharon resumed contacts with the PA just last week, following moves by Abbas to curb the firing of rockets and mortar shells on Israeli communities in the Gaza Strip and inside Israel proper.

Although there has been a noticeable drop in incidents, Israeli officials say there has been no decrease in the terrorists' motivation to carry out attacks.

Israel has issued dozens of security alerts warning of pending terror attacks; and there were 55 terror incidents during the last week, including the firing of mortar shells at Israeli communities in the Gaza Strip, said David Baker, an official in the prime minister's office.

Six Israeli soldiers were wounded in two separate terror attacks in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Thursday. Earlier in the day, soldiers nabbed a Palestinian youth who was carrying an explosive belt at a checkpoint outside of Nablus.

"Israel has made it clear to the Palestinian Authority that it fully expects it to take necessary measures to curb terror. Only in this way can we make genuine progress," Baker said by telephone.

"Israel has offered the Palestinians wide ranging and sweeping gestures, including readiness to release 900 prisoners and re-deploy from five cities," Baker added.

Top Israeli ministers approved those gestures on Thursday, calling them a result of Israel's desire to seize on "new opportunities" in the region.

"We've expressed readiness to take these measures. The Palestinians must follow through and fight terror," Baker said.

But angry Palestinian officials walked out of a meeting with Israeli officials on Thursday, saying they were insulted by Israel's offer to release 900 Palestinian security prisoners.

Israel has refused to release prisoners who have "blood on their hands" -- those who have murdered or been involved in planning or carrying out the murder of Israelis.

But Palestinians want a say in which prisoners will be released. (There are some 8,000 Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails.) Abbas wants militants detained before the first Oslo agreement in 1993 to be released, something Israel has so far refused to do.

The prisoner release is seen here as an attempt by Abbas to mollify radical groups that are opposed to peace with Israel.

Thursday's meeting was supposed to have settled the agenda for next week's summit. It is not clear whether another meeting will be held before Sharon and Abbas meet on Tuesday.

Top Palestinian negotiation Saeb Erekat said on Friday that it was still possible to solve the argument over the prisoner release. "It was a difficult meeting," Erekat was quoted as saying of Thursday's gathering.

"There is a new Palestinian president and the Israelis should be giving him a boost. We have said we are ready to discuss this at any time and we urged the officials to go back to their prime minister."

An unnamed senior Israeli official was quoted on Friday as saying that it is in the interests of both Israel and the Palestinians to follow through with Tuesday's meeting. He also predicted that Palestinian terrorist groups would step up their attempts at terror attacks ahead of the summit in Egypt.

The glitch in preparations for the summit comes ahead of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to the area, scheduled to begin on Sunday. It is still not clear if she will alter her plans and attend the Sharm el-Sheikh summit.

Speaking in London, where she met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Rice said that the process "is now a process that is moving and moving effectively."

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