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Sharon, Abbas to meet for new chapter in ties
Updated: 2005-08-23 10:10

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas agreed later Monday in a phone call to meet soon in a bid to open new pages of bilateral relations.

Abbas phoned Sharon and welcomed the implementation of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and northern West Bank, describing it "a brave and historic decision," Sharon's office said in a statement, adding the two leaders agreed to meet soon.

No exact date of meeting was made yet.

During the phone conversation, Abbas hoped the disengagement plan will open "a new page between the two peoples" and both he and Sharon should work together "for the sake of peace and the future of both peoples and the region," the statement said.

The five-minute conversation, the first since Sharon-Abbas' meeting in Jerusalem on June 21, came hours after Israel declared it had completed the evacuation of all 21 settlements in Gaza.

Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator, was quoted by the Jerusalem Post as saying that the two leaders were happy the evacuation of settlers had gone so smoothly and quietly.

He said Abbas reaffirmed his commitment to pursuing peace as partners.

Sharon's spokesman Raanan Gissin told reporters later that the two men also discussed the roadmap peace plan, vowing to move together to improve the living conditions for both peoples.

Earlier in the day, Abbas called Israel's Gaza pullout the start of a full Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian lands.

"Tomorrow (Tuesday) they will start leaving part of the West Bank," Abbas said during a meeting in Gaza city with a group of 400 disabled Palestinians wounded in conflict with Israel.

"It's a beginning of the full withdrawal from all the settlements. We will not close our eyes. We will not rest until they leave from all our land," said Abbas.

"The bullets that hit your bodies and the wounds that are still in your bodies are signs of honor," Abbas continued.

"Today we are getting part of the payoff of your sacrifice, by seeing the last settlers leaving Gaza. The credit for the evacuation is for you and for the martyears who sacrificed themselves and gave their lives for the homeland."

Also on Monday, US President George W. Bush welcomed Israel's pullout from the strip and called it "a historic step" toward peace in the Mideast.

While addressing military veterans in Salt Lake City, Bush said "in the heart of the Middle East, a hopeful story is unfolding."

"Peace is within reach in the Holy Land," Bush added.

Washington hopes the pullout will help boost peacemaking efforts and resume the long-stalled roadmap peace plan, which calls for an independent Palestinian state aside a secure Israel.

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