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Israel rules out immediate talks

arafat
Yasser Arafat addresses the Palestinian parliament in Gaza City on Saturday  

Jerusalem (CNN) -- Israel's new foreign minister has rejected Palestinian calls for a return to peace talks.

Shimon Peres said it was too early to meet Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat despite what he called a slight drop in "terrorism."

He was speaking after Arafat called for new peace talks with Israel and urged his people to choose "the peace of the brave."

Peres told Israel Radio: I'm not ready to declare any meeting. I believe it's too early.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon added he would not attempt to take back Palestinian territories in response to the recent violence.

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CNN's Jerrold Kessel says Palestinians view Israeli prime minister as blocking peace effort

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CNN's Fionnuala Sweeney reports on Arafat's call for new peace talks during his address to Palestinian parliament

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graphic Recent acts of violence in the Middle East:
 • Bombings
 • Activist deaths
 
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But he did tell Newsweek magazine that Israel would hunt down attackers hiding in the territories.

Sharon said: "Areas that were given to the Palestinians -- there, I think the situation is irreversible and I don't think we have to re-enter. That doesn't mean Israel will not take steps against people who find shelter there."

Arafat called Saturday for a return to the negotiating table as he addressed the Palestinian parliament which was meeting for the first time since Israel blockaded Palestinian territories in response to the upsurge in violence.

He said: "I call upon all Israeli leaders, regardless of their lines, to move forward towards this peace for the sake of our children and their children, for our future and their future.

"This peace can be achieved and can be a real actual alternative to the state of daily killing imposed on us."

But Arafat urged Sharon's new government to resume talks where they left off under his predecessor, Ehud Barak -- a position that Sharon's government has said it would not accept. Sharon, a former general with a record of toughness toward the Palestinians, has said there can be no resumption of peace negotiations until Arafat halts the violence. Arafat called on Israel's new administration to end the blockade of Palestinian territories and to end its escalation of military action -- which he said was a collective punishment against the Palestinian people.

And he reasserted the Palestinian claim to statehood, saying the uprising had showed "the people's will and determination ... to achieve national rights."

"The Palestinian people took the peace option through their national institutions, and ... this option is a strategic option supported by a strong will and a clear vision," Arafat said. "It is the peace of the brave, the peace of righteousness and justice, the peace of international legitimacy."

More than 465 people have been killed in clashes, ambushes, bombings and shellings since September 28, the day Sharon visited the Temple Mount -- Haram al-Sharif to Muslims -- a site hosting both Judaism's holiest site and a pair of sacred Islamic mosques.

Israeli economic sanctions have cost 250,000 Palestinians their jobs and pushed nearly 2 million people in the Palestinian territories into poverty, said Peter Hansen, head of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for the Palestinian Refugees.

Earlier this week, Sharon informed Arafat that he hoped to establish personal contacts very soon. Palestinian officials said they hoped to arrange a meeting between Sharon and Arafat in mid-March, but Sharon's spokesman, Raanan Gissin, said he knew of no plans for a meeting.



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RELATED SITES:
Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Israeli Prime Minister's Office
Israel Defense Forces
Palestinian National Authority

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