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(photo credit: GPO)
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday promised to deploy loyal security forces along the Philadelphi Route in the southern Gaza Strip to stop the smuggling of weapons from Sinai, and in the northern Gaza Strip in an effort to end the firing of Kassam rockets into Israel.
The detailed security plan, presented to Israeli leaders at Abbas's meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem, was drawn up at quadrilateral meetings involving US general Keith Dayton and Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian representatives. Two such meetings have taken place in recent weeks.
PA: Little hope for PM-Abbas summit
A senior diplomatic source in Jerusalem described the Palestinian plan as "certainly interesting and a positive step forward," but stressed that "Israel is waiting to see actual steps being taken on the ground."
Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni attended the first part of the three-and-a-half-hour talks - the first time Olmert has met with Abbas since US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared last month that the two leaders would meet every couple of weeks.
Sunday's meeting marked the first time that Israel and the Palestinians have discussed final-status issues since the discussions at Taba in January 2001 which followed the failed Camp David summit the previous summer.
Economic aspects of a future Palestinian state were discussed, but Israel had already made it clear that there would be no mention of the "core" final-status issues - borders, the status of Jerusalem and allocation of scarce water resources.
Olmert declared a number of steps to make day-to-day life for Palestinians easier. The Karni commercial crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel will now stay open until 11 each night, instead of 7. A decision was also taken to open the Rafah crossing for a few consecutive days each week, effective as soon as possible. In addition, more IDF roadblocks will be removed in the West Bank.
The prime minister urged Abbas to step up his efforts to bring about the release of Cpl. Gilad Schalit, abducted on the Gaza border 10 months ago.
The two leaders agreed to meet again in a couple of weeks in Jericho.
An Israeli official said that although there was no dramatic breakthrough, the meeting marked another incremental, step-by-step confidence building measure.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called the talks "a good beginning," although he stressed the agenda was modest. He said Abbas had stressed the need to move to final-status issues.
"Credibility requires that people see with their own eyes. They need to know the end game," he said.
The issue of the Arab League peace plan did not come up during the talks, although earlier on Sunday, Olmert told the weekly cabinet meeting that Israel was willing to discuss the plan relaunched at last month's Riyadh conference "with any combination of Arab states and hear their ideas."
He stressed that this did not mean that Jerusalem was accepting any specific Arab proposal.
Olmert reiterated that there were positive elements to the Saudi plan and he expressed the hope that it would be possible to meet with representatives of Arab states.
Arab League foreign ministers will meet in Cairo on Wednesday and will discuss the possibility of forming working groups to implement the Arab League peace plan.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abdul Gheit told Jerusalem at the beginning of the month that the Arab League wants to engage with Israel, but according to Arab League officials, no agenda has been fixed for the working groups and no decision taken on whether to include Israel.
Livni held talks on Sunday afternoon in Jordan with her Jordanian counterpart, Abdullah al-Khatib. The two discussed bilateral and regional issues ahead of the Arab League foreign ministers' summit. The discussions took place on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea and lasted four hours, but neither side provided details.
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