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OPT: Abbas-Sharon talks likely before Gaza pullout-report

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JERUSALEM, July 6 (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told a London-based Arabic newspaper he expects to hold a summit with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon before Israel's pullout from the occupied Gaza Strip in mid-August.

The two leaders held a frosty summit in Jerusalem last month that Palestinians labelled as disappointing, although Sharon said he had won Palestinian agreement to coordinate the pullout from all 21 Gaza settlements and four of 120 in the West Bank.

"I said that the meeting was difficult and the results were small. But there was agreement on continuing contacts and holding another meeting with the Israeli prime minister after completing preparations that can lead to better results," Abbas told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper in an interview in Libya.

"It will be before the date of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza," Abbas said in remarks published on the newspaper's web site on Wednesday.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters there was no agreement yet on a meeting, but did not rule it out.

A senior Israeli official said there was ongoing discussion about further meetings, but could not say if talks would be held before the Gaza pullout.

After the Jerusalem summit last month, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie said Israel had not given positive responses to issues Palestinians had raised including on opening a Gaza airport and further releases of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.

Sharon then reaffirmed his position that there could be no progress toward peace unless the Palestinian Authority cracked down on militants whom Abbas had coaxed into a ceasefire that has been tested by flare-ups of violence in recent weeks.

Washington is counting on Israel's Gaza pullout to help revive a U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan that envisions Palestinian statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Sharon has billed his plan as "disengagement" from conflict with the Palestinians, who have waged an uprising since September 2000. Most Palestinians welcome any Israeli withdrawal but fear Sharon wants to quit Gaza only to tighten Israel's hold on much of the West Bank.

(Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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