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April 13, 2003

Sharon: War on Iraq opens door to new opportunities with Palestinians

Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in an interview with the Tel Aviv-based Haaretz newspaper, said that if the Palestinians were ready to end "terror" once and for all, Israel would be ready for "painful" concessions.

Israel will hand over some Jewish settlements in the West Bank for peace, but the Palestinians must give up on their key demand for refugees to be allowed to return to their former homes in Israel, Sharon said.

"Our whole history is bound up with these places. Bethlehem, Shiloh, Beit El. And I know that we will have to part with some of these places. There will be a parting from places that are connected to the whole course of our history. As a Jew, this agonizes me. But I have decided to make every effort to reach a settlement," he told the newspaper.

Sharon said the US-led war on Iraq has opened the door to new opportunities and could make his initial call for a long-term peace deal irrelevant. Sharon outlined his reservations with a US-backed "road map" to Palestinian statehood.

The US-led war on Iraq "generated a shock through the Middle East and it brings with it a prospect of great changes," Sharon told Haaretz. "The Arab world in general, and the Palestinians in particular, have been shaken. There is therefore a chance to reach an agreement faster than people think," Sharon said.

The Israeli leader added he believed Palestinian Prime Minister designate Abu Mazen realized that nothing would be achieve with "terror." "Abu Mazen understands that it is impossible to vanquish Israel by means of terrorism," he said. (