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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Abbas, Sharon Pledge Middle Eastern Cease-Fire

SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas declared Tuesday that their people would stop all military and violent attacks against each other, pledging to break a four-year cycle of bloodshed and get peace talks back on track.

Sharon and Abbas met face-to-face at a Middle East summit, smiling broadly as they leaned across a long white table to shake hands.

In one sign the talks went well, Egypt and Jordan announced immediately afterward that they would return their ambassadors to Israel after a four-year absence -- possibly within days.

But the Palestinian militant group Hamas immediately called the deal into question, saying it would not be bound by the cease-fire declarations and was waiting to see what Israel would do next.

Yet the cease-fire deal and the sight of Abbas and Sharon shaking hands were the clearest signs yet of momentum in the peace process after Yasser Arafat's death in November and Abbas' election to succeed him in January.

One Israeli official, Gideon Meir, said "there was a great atmosphere in the talks ... smiles and joking."

An invitation to both sides to meet separately with U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House this spring added another round of momentum on the summit's eve.

"We have agreed on halting all violent actions against Palestinians and Israelis wherever they are," Abbas declared in a statement made after the meetings, as he, Sharon, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah II sat around a round table.

Sharon made a similar pledge.

"Today, in my meeting with chairman Abbas, we agreed that all Palestinians will stop all acts of violence against all Israelis everywhere, and, at the same time, Israel will cease all its military activity against all Palestinians everywhere," he said.

Abbas said he expected the cease-fire pledges to pave the way for resumption of talks on so-called "final status" issues such as borders, refugees and Jerusalem's status, all within the context of the Middle East "road map" to peace. Sharon said he also expected the deal Tuesday to set the stage for the implementation of the road map.

Sharon also said that Israel would soon release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, one of the goodwill gestures sought by both sides.

In another, Sharon invited Abbas to visit him at his ranch in southern Israel and Abbas accepted, Meir said. Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said the meeting would take place soon.

Sharon also said he would like the next meeting between the two leaders to be in the West Bank town of Ramallah, said an adviser, Raanan Gissin.

Asked whether Hamas would continue its attacks against Israel after the summit, the group's representative in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, replied: "Our decision depends on the achievement of a substantial change [in Israel's position] to meet Palestinian demands and conditions."

Abbas has held talks with Hamas and other militant Palestinian groups in an attempt to convince them to agree to a truce with Israel. But Hamdan said that in order for a truce to be successful, Israel must release Palestinian prisoners and make a clear commitment to "halt all kinds of aggression against the Palestinian people."

He contended that those conditions were not met at the summit.

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, a key parliamentary committee narrowly approved a bill that would allow Sharon to carry out his planned pullout from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank in the summer. The vote passed 10-9 on a subject that has split Sharon's party and angered his main constituency: settlers and their supporters.

Abbas said it was time for the Palestinian people to regain their freedom.

"A new opportunity for peace is born today in the city of peace. Let's pledge to protect it," Abbas said, referring to the nickname that Sharm el-Sheik earned through past peace summits.

And Sharon, in what he said was a direct address to the Palestinian people, said: "I assure you that we have a genuine intention to respect your rights to live independently and in dignity. I have already said that Israel has no desire to continue to govern over you and control your fate."

Mubarak, who summoned the two leaders and has been a key mediator, said there also was fresh hope for Syrian-Lebanese peace negotiations, which have been frozen since 2000.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Egypt and Jordan would return their ambassadors to Israel after a four-year absence, possibly within days. Egypt and Jordan lowered their diplomatic representation in Israel in late 2000 to protest what they saw as Israel's excessive use of force against Palestinians in the fighting that began in September that year.

Gissin said that as part of Israel's halting of military operations, it would stop its controversial targeted killing operations against wanted Palestinians, as long as the Palestinians kept militants under control.