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Abbas, Olmert to meet in Egypt to discuss Gaza

Written by: Staff
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RAMALLAH, June 21 (Reuters) Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will meet next week for the first time since Hamas routed Abbas's Fatah group in Gaza, Palestinian and Egyptian officials said today.

An Egyptian official said the two men who last met in April, would hold talks at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt together with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah.

Abbas was likely to meet Arab leaders on Sunday and then hold talks with Olmert the following day, an Egyptian diplomat told Reuters.

Miri Eisin, a spokeswoman for Olmert, said the summit was planned as a venue ''to talk about mutual cooperation and ways to go forward on the Israeli-Palestinian track.'' Israeli officials said the talks were likely to be held on Monday.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior aide to the Western-backed Abbas, said he hoped the summit would lay a ''cornerstone'' for starting Palestinian-Israeli negotiations that would lead to an agreement to achieve Palestinian statehood.

But Hamas poured cold water on the idea, saying the summit would not yield any new benefits for Palestinians.

In a meeting in the occupied West Bank, the Palestine Liberation Organisation's central council called today for ''dissolving all militias,'' including Hamas and Fatah forces -- a move that would meet a longstanding US and Israeli demand.

It was unclear how such a decision could be enforced.

Olmert and Abbas last met in April despite agreeing with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice earlier this year that they would do so at least every two weeks.

The Israeli leader reaffirmed his commitment to the vision of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, with US President George W Bush in Washington on Tuesday, both endorsing Abbas's leadership after Hamas routed his Fatah group in Gaza last week.

The Islamist Hamas's victory on June 14 has divided control over the Palestinian territories between Hamas now in charge in the Gaza Strip, and Fatah movement in the occupied West Bank.

Abbas has since set up a new emergency cabinet naming Salam Fayyad as prime minister, after sacking a unity government headed by Hamas. Hamas insists the joint coalition is still alive and headed by its leader Ismail Haniyeh.

Israel launched its first contacts in 15 months with the Palestinian Authority on Wednesday, with a phone call between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Fayyad. It had boycotted the Hamas-led coalition which refused to recognise the Jewish state.

HAMAS OBJECTS TO SUMMIT Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman in Gaza for Hamas, which still considers itself head of a unity government with Fatah named three months ago, said the summit was ''not justified and will not bring any benefit to the Palestinians or the world.'' Angry rhetoric has escalated between the two groups even as the gun battles between Hamas and Fatah gunmen subsided.

Abbas assailed Hamas on Wednesday as a group of ''traitors'' and ''killers'' with whom he would eschew all dialogue.

In a speech to the PLO's central council meeting in Ramallah, Abbas also accused Hamas of having tried to assassinate him.

In Gaza, protesters burned Abbas's effigy, denouncing him as a ''US puppet.'' Sami Abu Zuhri of Hamas accused Abbas of being part of ''an Israeli, American and regional plot'' to break up the Palestinian polity.

Olmert and Abbas had been due to meet in the West Bank weeks ago but called off these talks during the Palestinian factional fighting and in disagreement as to when Israel would release tax revenues it withheld from the Hamas-led government.

The Israeli leader has now pledged to ask his cabinet to release 300 dollars to 400 dollars of the funds at its coming session on Sunday. Abbas has sought 700 million dollars, but Israeli officials say the remainder has been frozen by court order.

Israel has also signalled a readiness to remove several roadblocks in the West Bank requested by the Bush administration in a document submitted to both sides, diplomats said.

The United Nations West Asia envoy Michael Williams called at the Security Council for Israel also to make good on its pledges to remove unauthorised Jewish settlement outposts in the West Bank and free Palestinian prisoners from its jails.

REUTERS SYU BD1701

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