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May 05, 2003

Israel, Palestinians Spar Over Peace Plan

JERUSALEM - Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas demanded Sunday that the internationally backed "road map" to peace be implemented immediately, while a senior Bush administration official said definitive action was needed by both Israel and the Palestinians for the plan to succeed.

Assistant Secretary of State William Burns avoided taking sides while speaking to reporters after meeting Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, but pushed both sides to adopt the road map.

"That's going to require a restoration of Palestinian efforts against terror," Burns said. "It's also going to require steps taken by all sides."

Burns' comments were part of a diplomatic flurry that suggested Israel and the Palestinians were trying to seize the opportunity presented by the unveiling of the road map — even as violence continued. Since the plan's formal presentation last Wednesday, three Israeli civilians, 20 Palestinians and a British journalist have died.

Palestinian officials said they were trying to set up a meeting between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (news - web sites). It would be the highest level talks since peace talks fell apart more than two years ago.

Palestinian Cabinet minister Mohammed Dahlan told The Associated Press on Sunday he would lead a Palestinian delegation for security talks with the Israelis on Thursday — the first such meeting between the two sides since August.

The peace plan's first phase calls for a Palestinian crackdown on terror groups and an Israeli freeze on Jewish settlements, among other steps. The plan says the steps must be parallel.

Israel has objected to carrying out its part at the same time as the expected Palestinian crackdown on militants, saying an end to all violence is a precondition for any progress. [more]