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Sharon to Putin: Israel willing to make 'concessions'

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon before holding talks Monday. An unidentified interpreter is at center.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon before holding talks Monday. An unidentified interpreter is at center.

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MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- In Moscow for meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and other officials, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Monday that Israel is willing to make "concessions in exchange for peace."

"Israel is the only country in the world that is ready to make concessions, even though it hasn't lost a single war," Sharon said, according to Russia's Interfax news agency.

However, Sharon added, Israel will not make concessions on the issue of security.

Putin, at the beginning of the meeting, said that Russia is "intent on taking an active role, as much as it is possible from our side, in the Middle East settlement."

Russia is among those working on a plan for Middle East peace. The so-called road map -- also backed by the United States, United Nations and European Union -- calls for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and security for Israel.

Sharon and Putin also discussed improving ties between the two countries, noting that trade has increased from $12 million in the 1990s to more than $1 billion today.

In addition, Israeli officials are expected to raise the issue of Iran's nuclear program, which Israel considers a threat. Russia is helping Iran to build a nuclear power plant at Bushehr. The two countries say the plant is for peaceful purposes. Israel is urging Russia to prevent the transfer of any uranium enrichment technology to Iran.

Hamas official says group may limit attacks

Sharon's comments came a day after a senior Hamas official said the Palestinian militant group will not halt its attacks on Israelis but would agree to target only Israeli soldiers and settlers if Israel stops its operations into Palestinian territories.

The development came four days after Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei said Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups had told him they were willing to discuss a new cease-fire with Israel.

"As you know, we will meet with Abu Ala [Qorei]," senior Hamas official Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi said from an undisclosed site.

"If he is going to speak about truce, we are going to speak something else, which is continuation of resistance by all means, and we are ready at the same time to avoid civilians on both sides -- if the Israelis are ready for that, then we are ready. But as I said, a truce under aggression I believe it will be disastrous for the Palestinian people and Palestinian issue."

Qorei said last week, "Everyone wants a serious dialogue," indicating he plans to travel soon to Gaza for talks with Hamas.

"We're getting positive statements from everybody" about holding new talks on a cease-fire, said Qorei, adding: "They want to reach a common denominator."

Qorei, who is in office under an emergency degree, said if Palestinian factions can come to an agreement, it will then be necessary to have talks with Israel on a reciprocal pact.

A previous cease-fire -- declared unilaterally by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the militant offshoot of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement -- ended August 21.

The groups declared the 7-week-old cease-fire over after a senior Hamas leader was killed in an Israeli missile attack. The Israeli attack followed a terrorist bus bombing in Jerusalem that killed 20 people. Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the bus bombing.

The U.S. State Department has declared all three groups to be terrorist organizations.

Other developments

• A Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up Monday near Qalqilya in the northern West Bank, Israeli military sources said. Israeli soldiers were conducting searches based on the threat of suicide bombers in the village of Azzoun when a man ran toward them and blew himself up, sources said. The bomber died in the attack, and an Israeli soldier was slightly wounded.

• Also on Monday, the Israeli Defense Ministry said the Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz met with Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayyad recently. The spokeswoman would not disclose any details of what was discussed and would only say that "this was part of a process of dialogue that they have started with the new Palestinian government under Abu Alla [Qorei] and are aiming to reach an agreement according to the principles of the road map and hoping this will lead to more meetings."

CNN Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty contributed to this article.


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