(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met this morning (Monday), 17 January 2005, with Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutake Machimura, who visited the Palestinian Authority (PA) yesterday.

At the start of the meeting, Prime Minister Sharon said: “I am happy to host Minister Machimura and I am certain that this visit will contribute to enhancing bilateral relations.  We are aware of Japan’s involvement in the Middle East and its desire to aid the diplomatic process.

We hope that bilateral relations – including bilateral economic relations – will improve in the wake of this visit.”

Prime Minister Sharon asked Minister Machimura to deliver an invitation for Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to visit Israel.  On behalf of his government, Japanese Foreign Minister Machimura invited Prime Minister Sharon to visit Japan.

Prime Minister Sharon updated his guest on the situation vis-a-vis the Palestinians and said that in recent weeks, we have been witness to an upsurge in terrorism against Israel, mainly in the Gaza Strip.  The peak was the terrorist attack that took place last Thursday at Karni Crossing: “Only recently did the Palestinians request that we extend the hours of operation at the Crossing and the result was more terrorism.  We do not see any intention by the Palestinians to fight terrorism and halt terrorist actions against Israel.  They could deploy Palestinian police personnel in the areas that they are firing Kassam rockets from and they could investigate the latest attack at the Karni Crossing and put its perpetrators on trial.”  The Prime Minister said that the Palestinians have been launching rockets at civilian populations and that the Palestinian leadership has done nothing to prevent this.

Prime Minister Sharon said: “At this stage, we have decided to freeze contacts with the Palestinians until they take steps to halt the firing of Kassam rockets and mortars and investigate the most recent terrorist attack. Similarly, we have decided to close the crossings since the terrorist organizations have focused their terrorist actions against us at the crossings.”  The Prime Minister added that those who perpetrated the [Karni] attack passed unhindered through territory under the control of the Palestinian security forces.

Prime Minister Sharon emphasized: “On security issues, Israel will not compromise, neither now nor in the future.  We understand that the Palestinian leadership has difficulties but Israel will not agree to pay in lives for Abu Mazen’s difficulties.”

Japanese Foreign Minister Machimura updated Prime Minister Sharon on his talks with Abu Mazen and said that the PA Chairman is interested in dialogue with Israel, adding that Abu Mazen told him that that he also believes that he must act against terrorism and that last Thursday’s attack was directed against the Palestinians.

Prime Minister Sharon said that while the attack might have been directed against Palestinians as well, the only victims were Israeli civilians, and this we cannot countenance.

Japanese Foreign Minister Machimura expressed his country’s support for the Disengagement Plan and said that it was a courageous step.  He said that in the past Japan has demanded that the Palestinians stop violence towards Israel immediately, and added that it would do so in the future as well. Prime Minister Sharon said that the PA has no excuses for not deploying its forces in places from which Kassam rockets and mortars are launched in order to prevent launchings.

The two men also discussed the issues of Iran, Syria and Hizbullah.