Abbas office says no US conference invites yet

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RAMALLAH, West Bank, Sep 23 (Reuters) Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's office issued a statement today to underline that the United States has yet to issue invitations to a West Asia peace conference planned for later this year.

A day after Abbas aide Nimer Hammad said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Abbas that Washington planned to invite a group of Arab states that includes Syria, Hammad said: ''No invitations have been issued yet to any party to attend the conference.

''This is under discussion between the US administration and international and regional capitals,'' his statement added.

Rice, when asked on Thursday at a joint news conference with Abbas whether Syria would be invited, had replied that no nation had yet been given an invitation.

The United States has made clear it would like Arab states, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to attend a conference, pencilled in for mid-November near Washington, that it hopes can lay the ground for settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Palestinians also want to see significant Arab input at any conference and Hammad said yesterday that Rice told Abbas she hoped the nations represented on an Arab League panel set up to follow the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would take part.

In addition to the Palestinian Authority, the group comprises Syria, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt. Only the last two have full relations with Israel, while Syria and Lebanon are deeply estranged from the Jewish state.

''The Arabs have been pressuring the United States to invite Syria and Lebanon to the conference, otherwise it cannot be called an international conference,'' a senior Palestinian official told Reuters.

Syria is regarded as hostile by Washington and Israel -- whose forces appear to have conducted a shadowy military mission inside Syria this month -- making the attendance of Syrian delegates problematic.

REUTERS AK PM0025

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