Sharon: Israel set for concessions
ANKARA, Turkey -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said he is ready for "painful concessions" to achieve peace in the Mideast.
Speaking after talks in Ankara with his Turkish counterpart, Bulent Ecevit, Sharon said: "Israel wants to start the peace process as early as possible."
He said: "We are committed to peace, and I am ready to make painful concessions for peace," Reuters news agency reported.
But he warned: "It's important for [Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat] to decide if he wants to stand at the head of an independent state and act accordingly, or if he wants to stand at the head of a gang of murderers."
"I will not make any concessions on the security of the people of Israel," he added.
But Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erakat blamed the ongoing Mideast violence on Israel and a reluctance on the part of the U.S. to get fully involved in helping resolve the conflict.
He told CNN: "The hesitancy of the U.S. is understood by Sharon to be a green light for further aggression."
He said he feared "the next step by Sharon may be major massacres ... hundreds of thousands of people may be killed" and urged the United States to pressure Israel to implement the recommendations of the Mitchell Report and support the deployment in the Mideast of international observers.
U.S. President George W. Bush has repeatedly said America remains "deeply involved" in the region.
Ecevit earlier warmly welcomed Sharon to Turkey, saying: "We will be happy to see you in our country frequently."
But he urged the Israeli premier to focus on peace talks with the Palestinians and accept international observers to end months of bloodshed in the region.
"If peace isn't secured, those who oppose any agreement between Israel and the Palestinians will continue to feed violence," the Associated Press reported Ecevit as saying.
"We believe that while efforts to stop the violence are undertaken, on the other hand steps to revive the peace process must also be taken," he added.
Sharon's visit had sparked criticism in the Turkish press over his policies towards the Palestinians.
But he is expected to sign a number of economic and military deals with the country during his first visit to Ankara since his election in February.
Riot police surrounded the government office where the two prime ministers met, while hundreds of other officers were deployed in the streets.
Earlier on Wednesday Israeli helicopters attacked Palestinian targets following the killing of a Jewish settler in the West Bank.
"In response to the murderous shooting near Tapuch junction in which an Israeli civilian was killed, the army has struck Palestinian Authority targets in the town of Salfit," the Israeli army said in a statement.
The Palestinian Red Crescent Society reported no casualties as a result of the attack on Wednesday in the town, which is close to Palestinian-ruled Nablus in the West Bank.
On Tuesday, Turkish police broke up an anti-Israeli protest in Istanbul and rounded up 135 demonstrators, including women wearing Iranian-style black chadors.
CNN's Jane Arraf said Turkey had been "taking a lot of heat" for its close cooperation with Israel but saw itself as being in a position to be influential in Middle East politics.
She said the Sharon visit was a chance for Israel to show it still had friends.
For Turkey, the relationship with Israel is also economically and militarily important and a way to increase its profile in Washington, which has close ties with both countries.
Turkey, which also has close ties with the Palestinians, also has occasionally served as a messenger between Israel and the Palestinians.
But Islamic papers gave Sharon a rough ride.
"Murderer get out!" read the pro-Islamic daily Akit's headline on Wednesday. On Tuesday, it had printed a large photograph of the Israeli prime minister on its front page, superimposed with fangs dripping blood.
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