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Sharon: Conditions ripe for 'historic breakthrough'

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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Thursday night he believes the Palestinians have created conditions for a "historic breakthrough" in relations between the bitter rivals.

"We are monitoring recent developments in the Palestinian Authority with great interest," Sharon said.

"And it seems that there is a positive approach there regarding the war on terrorism and advancing the diplomatic process."

The Israeli prime minister was speaking at a builders and contractors convention in Tel Aviv.

"If the Palestinians take comprehensive action to stop the terrorism, violence and incitement, we will be able to move forward in contacts on implementing the road map.

"It would even be possible to coordinate with them on various actions regarding the disengagement plan."

Sharon is intent on carrying out his plan to unilaterally withdraw Israelis from Gaza and parts of the West Bank by the middle of this year, and work with Palestinians on the road map, a peace plan drawn up by the international quartet of Russia, the European Union, the United Nations and the United States that is to lead in stages to the creation of a Palestinian state.

In an effort to move the peace process along, newly installed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas began deploying about 2,000 security forces last Friday around northern Gaza in an effort to stop attacks on Israel.

Abbas also is pressuring Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups to participate in a cease-fire, arguing that Israel will not go ahead with its disengagement plan from Gaza while under attack from militants.

"I believe that the conditions have been created which will enable us and the Palestinians to reach a historic breakthrough in relations between us, a breakthrough which would lead us towards quiet and security," Sharon said.

The prime minister said he sees "encouraging signs, but these matters must be put to the test."

Sharon also spoke Thursday night with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who congratulated him on the positive atmosphere that has been created in the region with the dialogue with the Palestinians.

Mubarak, who phoned Sharon, told the prime minister Egypt is ready to help advance the peace process, the spokesman said.

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