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Sharon talks Mideast peace with Annan

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- In his first meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan since becoming Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon on Wednesday reiterated his opposition to a United Nations observer force in the West Bank or Gaza.

During the hour-long meeting, Annan raised the Palestinian proposal, while Sharon "indicated his, I think by now, well-known position that he would oppose any U.N. observers in Palestinian territory," said U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard.

According to a spokesman for the Israeli mission to the U.N., Sharon said that terrorism would only increase with the presence of an observer force and that terrorists would "find shelter behind the observers."

The U.N. Security Council might vote by the end of the week on a draft resolution to create an unarmed observer force to help protect Palestinian civilians. The United States, a permanent member of the Security Council, is expected to veto the resolution.

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Sharon said he would remain flexible in resuming peace talks but told Annan that he would not "compromise the security of Israeli citizens," Eckhard said.

Annan also urged Sharon to cooperate with a U.S. fact-finding committee led by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell. The committee is in the Middle East to investigate nearly six months of Israeli-Palestinian violence. Sharon said he would meet with the five-member team this weekend.

Palestinian leaders have requested both the U.N. observers and the international commission in the aftermath of the fighting, which began in September. So far, 387 Palestinians have been killed in clashes with Israelis, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society. Israel Defense Forces say 66 Israeli Jews and 13 Israeli Arabs have been killed in the violence.

The fact-finding panel on Wednesday met with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

A Palestinian police officer was killed and two others were injured in Israeli-Palestinian fighting in Gaza just a few hours after the commission met with Arafat, according to Israeli and Palestinian sources.

Palestinians said the headquarters of the Force 17 Unit, Arafat's special guard detachment, came under Israeli tank fire that killed a 29-year-old police officer.

The Israeli army said that a number of mortar rounds were fired on the Jewish settlement of Netzarim in Gaza, and two tank shells were fired in response "at the source of fire," which was northwest of the settlement.

The Israeli military also said that another Jewish settlement in the southern part of Gaza also came under a mortar attack earlier in the evening. No Israeli casualties occurred in either incident, the sources said.



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

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