Israel dismantling settlement outposts
Sharon, Abbas vow to stay on road map
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli troops have begun dismantling two unoccupied illegal settler outposts in the West Bank, military sources said Monday.
The move is the first time that Israel has taken steps to remove illegal outposts in almost a year -- before the Labor Party pulled out of the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in October.
The first outpost, Neve Erez, is near Ramallah. The second, Amuna, is east of Jerusalem, not far from the large Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim.
The Israeli government has pledged to remove outposts, including at least four that are inhabited, as a step in the road map to peace.
Sharon and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, vowed that an attack that killed four Israeli soldiers Sunday would not disrupt the Middle East peace process.
Hamas and two other Palestinian radical groups -- Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades -- claimed responsibility for what they said was a coordinated attack against an Israeli military post in Gaza that also wounded four other soldiers.
Three Palestinians dressed in Israeli military uniforms were killed, the Israel Defense Forces said.
Sharon said he would continue his support for the road map drafted by the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia, even though he was harshly criticized Sunday at a convention of his Likud party.
"Despite terrorism ... we will do everything to bring about peace and quiet," said Sharon. "We have taken the road map. It wasn't easy [Sunday] at the meeting at [the] Likud. This is the approach I decided to adopt, that I shall put into practice."
Abbas condemns attack
The statement on Sunday's attack issued by Hamas and the other two groups -- all of which the United States lists as terrorist organizations -- was a direct challenge to Abbas.
Abbas told reporters Monday he condemned the attack and called for a meeting with radical group leaders, warning those who did not attend would suffer the consequences.
"We will continue talks to reach an agreement," he said. "This agreement is to reach calm in the Palestinian areas. It has no other meaning or implication, but those who do not want dialogue must take responsibility."
Hamas announced Friday it was breaking off talks with Abbas, accusing him of giving in too much to Israel at last week's peace summit with Sharon and President Bush in Aqaba, Jordan.
But Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader, appeared to step back from that position Monday, saying the group is not opposed in principle to talks and would decide in the next several days whether to reopen discussions with the Palestinian Authority on a cease-fire with Israel.
At Monday's news conference, Abbas said, "The Palestinian suffering needs solutions, it does not need violence."
He denied he had made too many concessions, saying he would continue to press Israel on the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees.
The right of return has been a hot-button issue between the two sides. Palestinians want those who fled or were pushed off territory that became Israel in 1948 to have the right to return home.
Israel has resisted, saying allowing those Palestinians and their heirs to return would give Arabs a majority in Israel, a country set up to be a Jewish state.
"I must first affirm that the position that was announced in Aqaba is a commitment and is the position of the Palestinian leadership. It was fully coordinated with President Yasser Arafat," Abbas said.
"For those who are trying to play games, they should stop because it won't lead them anywhere."
Arafat was not invited to the summit and has been critical of the peace plan, saying Sharon had offered nothing tangible to Palestinians.
White House: 'Arafat had his chance'
The White House made clear Monday the Bush administration feels the less Arafat has to do with the peace process the more likely a deal can be reached.
"The president's point of view is that if Yasser Arafat had wanted peace, peace would have been achieved years ago, that Yasser Arafat had his chance, Yasser Arafat is an obstacle to peace and that Yasser Arafat lied to the president about an extraordinarily serious situation, because it involved a shipment of weapons to terrorists that Yasser Arafat said he had nothing to do with, had no knowledge of, when it was proven that he was involved in it," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said.
Fleischer was referring to the freighter Karine-A that Israel seized in January 2002. The ship, which was linked to members of the Palestinian Authority was carrying about 50 tons of weapons, the Israeli military said.
Arafat has maintained that he was not involved in the Karine-A shipment. The United States has said evidence points to Palestinian Authority involvement.
When asked if Arafat is involved in peace process, Fleischer said, "As far as President Bush is concerned, the answer is no. And the more people around the world who think he's not involved, the better the prospects for peace.
Bush said he remained optimistic about peace in the Middle East despite the attack.
"The average Palestinian must understand that their lives will improve with the vision of Prime Minister Abbas. And the Arab neighborhood understands that violence will lead to nothing except misery and a lack of hope," Bush told reporters.
"And so I am optimistic that responsible leaders have now got the message that we must combine to work to fight off the terror attacks so that a peaceful Palestinian state can emerge."