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Sharon Urges Palestinians to Act on Peace

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said on Thursday at the UN summit in New York that Israel had demonstrated its readiness to make concessions for peace with its Palestinian neighbors, and it is now the Palestinians' turn to prove their desire for peace.


Sharon made the remarks when he addressed the UN summit, the first time he came to New York for a UN conference since he became Israeli prime minister in 2001.


He said the decision to unilaterally pull out of Jewish settlements in Gaza was a difficult one, and came at a heavy personal cost. But he said he was guided by the belief that this is the right path for the future of Israel, though Israeli society is divided over the disengagement issue and is going through a difficult time.


Sharon said the end of Israeli control over Gaza allows the Palestinians to develop their economy and build a peace-seeking society. But he noted that the Palestinian leadership would face major obstacles in fulfilling their commitment to end what he called "terror and its infrastructures," eliminate the "anarchic regime of armed gangs, and cease the incitement of hatred towards Israel and the Jews."


The Israeli leader also maintained that Israel would continue to build its controversial separation barrier through the West Bank, parts of which were declared illegal in July 2004 by the UN's International Court of Justice.


However, the nonbinding rule has been ignored by Israel.


Earlier Thursday, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected the UN ruling and stated that Israel had the right in principle to build a separation fence in the West Bank for security reasons.


Israel insists that the planned 600-km-long barrier, which winds deeply into occupied Palestinian territory, is designed to fend off possible suicide bombers. Palestinians, on the other hand, see it a land grab.


Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hailed the Israeli Supreme Court's ruling, saying it upholds the legality of building the fence beyond the Green Line.


However, a petition recently submitted to the Israeli government by Palestinian residents of five West Bank villages asked Israel to reconsider within a reasonable time an alternative route for part of the fence in the northern West Bank settlement of Alfei Menashe.


The petition said the fence would force Palestinian residents into lives of isolation and separation, adding that the Israeli government had no right to build the fence beyond the Green Line, which divided Israel and the West Bank before the 1967 Middle East War.


The barrier, over half of which has already been built, will separate hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their jobs, schools and public services.


Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat said that if Israel wanted to build a barrier it should do so on its own territory and not on Arab land it captured in the 1967 Middle East War.


For their part, the Israeli prime minister said the right of the Jewish people to the land of Israel does not mean disregarding the rights of others in the land.


"The Palestinians will always be our neighbors. We respect them, and have no aspirations to rule over them. They are also entitled to freedom and to a national, sovereign existence in a state of their own," Sharon said.


He reaffirmed Israel's commitment to the roadmap peace plan, and expressed the hope that it will renew the Middle East peace process.


Erekat later on Thursday reacted to Sharon's remarks by saying: "We invite Sharon to resume negotiations including the issues of borders, refugees and Jerusalem, because peace is the way for Israel and Palestinians to live in dignity and security."


"We stand ready in our responsibilities in the Palestinian Authority," Erekat declared.


The Palestinians believe that Sharon may not take the Gaza withdrawal forward to broader peacemaking that would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state. They suspect he will instead use the withdrawal to tighten Israel's grip on major West Bank settlement blocs -- land the Palestinians see as part of their national state.


Also on Thursday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas toured the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt for the first time since Israel ended its 38-year military occupation of the territory.


Israel closed the Rafah crossing, the only exit for Palestinian travelers abroad, in the absence of a deal on monitoring passengers and goods after the Israeli army withdrew from the entire Gaza Strip on Monday.


The Palestinian National Authority urged international mediators on Thursday to help find a solution regarding the fate of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt.


(Xinhua News Agency September 16, 2005)


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