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Israel's Olmert ready to meet Abbas - officials

Written by: Staff
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JERUSALEM, Sep 9 (Reuters) Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is ready to hold his first summit with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas immediately, Israeli officials said today.

The officials said Olmert today would deliver the message during talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, but ruled out any gestures towards the Palestinians before militants in Gaza free abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

''He will tell Blair 'I am ready to meet with Abbas tomorrow, but the problem is that Abbas wants me to announce I will free prisoners and I won't do so until Shalit is released','' one official said.

Blair today met Olmert at the start of a West Asia visit aimed at encouraging Israelis and Palestinians to take the first steps back towards the negotiating table. Peace talks collapsed in 2000 before the start of a Palestinian uprising.

Israel launched an offensive in the Gaza Strip over two months ago after militants captured Corporal Shalit in a cross-border raid.

Over 210 Palestinians, about half of them civilians, have been killed in the operation.

REUTERS SBA RAI2323

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