JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli and Palestinian leaders yesterday accepted Egypt’s offer to host a summit between them, raising hopes for a breakthrough in Mideast peace efforts after four years of fighting.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak offered to bring Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik on Tuesday, capping weeks of a dramatic easing in tensions between the two sides.
King Abdullah II of Jordan, another important figure in regional peacemaking, also will attend, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said.
Qureia said Palestinians hope the summit will produce a mutual cease-fire, a halt to Israel’s targeted killings of militants and the release of Palestinian prisoners.
The presence of Egypt and Jordan, both of which have long-standing peace agreements with Israel, would signal firm Arab support for any agreements Sharon and Abbas might reach.
Egypt and Jordan “will be insurance of success for a summit,” Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said.
The White House welcomed the summit as “an encouraging step.” Spokesman Scott McClellan called this “an important time to help support the Palestinian leaders to move forward on putting institutions in place for a democratic state to emerge.
“At the top of that list for those Palestinian leaders is to address some of the security issues and the violence and the terror,” he said. “They’ve taken some important steps that are positive.”
Erekat said he, Palestinian negotiator Mohammed Dahlan and Palestinian Cabinet Secretary Hassan Abu Libdeh will meet today with Sharon’s chief of staff, Dov Weisglass, and Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz to prepare for the summit.
In recent days, there has been bickering over what to raise at a summit, and disagreements remain over the scope of a Palestinian prisoner release, the fate of Palestinian fugitives and a West Bank troop redeployment.
The expected arrival of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the region over the weekend also is intensifying pressure on both sides to settle some differences over what should be announced after the meeting. There has been no word on whether Rice might attend the summit.
Israeli radio stations described Sharon’s invitation to Egypt as “historic.” Mubarak has refused to meet the hard-line leader since he became prime minister in 2001.
Israel’s Security Cabinet will meet today to discuss the summit agenda.
Egypt extended the summit invitation during a meeting yesterday between Sharon and Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. A day before, Suleiman met the leaders of the militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Khaled Mashaal and Ramadan Shalah, respectively, in Cairo.
The intelligence chief’s unexpected trip to Jerusalem signaled that he made progress in winning a promise from the Palestinian militant groups to halt attacks on Israel.