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Israel's Livni to meet Abbas -Palestinian official

Written by: Staff
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JERUSALEM, May 18 (Reuters) Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will meet Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni at a West Asia economic conference in Egypt on Sunday, a Palestinian official said today.

An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said Abbas and Livni would be on joint panel discussion but did not confirm the two would hold separate talks.

Talks between the two would represent the highest-level Israeli-Palestinian meeting since the militant Islamist movement Hamas won a parliamentary election in January, prompting Israel to shun the Palestinian Authority.

''A meeting between President Abbas and Tzipi Livni has been arranged for Sunday in Sharm el-Sheikh. The president will discuss the resumption of the peace process and cooperation,'' senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat told Reuters.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said: ''There is a public session in which she is participating with Mr Abbas.

As to working meetings, we have not yet put out her schedule.'' The Abbas-Livni meeting would take place ahead of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's first visit to Washington to outline his plan for the future of the West Bank to US President George W Bush at the White House on Tuesday. Israeli officials expect Bush to press Olmert to meet Abbas.

Olmert's ''Convergence Plan'' involves withdrawing from dozens of isolated Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank while bolstering Jewish settlement blocs in a push to set Israel's permanent borders by 2010 with or without Palestinian agreement.

The newly elected Israeli prime minister said yesterday that he was willing to meet Abbas, a moderate leader, but did not envisage any progress from such talks unless the Hamas-led Palestinian government moderated its positions.

Israel, along with much of the rest of the international community, has demanded that Hamas renounce violence, revoke its call for the Jewish state's destruction and embrace a ''roadmap'' to peace that charters steps to achieve a final treaty.

Abbas has repeatedly urged Israel to resume peace negotiations. The Palestinian leader, who is in the midst of a power struggle with Hamas, has called on the Islamist movement to back such talks.

Hamas leaders say negotiations with Israel would be a waste of time. Although its local leadership, strapped for cash after losing millions of dollars in international aid, is under enormous pressure to back Abbas's peace proposals.

REUTERS PR RN1524

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