Archive for Monday, May 22, 2006

Abbas meets with Israeli minister

May 22, 2006

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— Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met with Israel's foreign minister and deputy prime minister here on Sunday for the highest-level talks between Palestinian and Israeli officials in nearly a year.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said urgent measures were needed to resurrect stagnant Middle East peace talks if there's to be hope of Israelis and Palestinians living peacefully in their own neighboring countries. "I think that time is working against those who believe in a two-state solution," she said.

Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres said that the meeting, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum conference here, had gone well and was a "preparation and an opening, particularly on the economic side," after 11 months without a high-level meeting.

But comments by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem suggested it was unlikely Sunday's talks would lead to renewed negotiations. Olmert derided Abbas as a "powerless" and "helpless" leader incapable of leading the Palestinian people to peace.

The conflicting events came on the eve of Olmert's first official trip to Washington where he is expected to face political pressure not to isolate Abbas, whom American officials are working to bolster in his ongoing power struggle with the Hamas-dominated Palestinian government.

Underscoring Abbas' difficult position, Palestinian police in Gaza foiled what they said was another apparent assassination plot against a top official allied with Abbas.

Police said they discovered a 150-pound roadside bomb planted on the road that Rashid Abu Shbak, the head of the Palestinian Authority's security services, takes from his south Gaza City home to work. The bomb was discovered just before Shbak left his house.

The discovery came one day after Abbas' intelligence chief was seriously injured in an explosion in an elevator shaft at his headquarters in Gaza.

The apparent assassination attempts came on the heels of several gun battles between Abbas' Fatah and Hamas, raising concerns that the factional fighting could spin out of control. A statement from Fatah called the attacks a "clear conspiracy" against the party, though members stopped short of overtly blaming Hamas.

Just before flying to Washington, Olmert agreed to release $11 million in frozen Palestinian taxes to ease the unfolding humanitarian crisis.

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi also pledged $16 million to help fund the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority through the end of the year.

After the talks, Abbas also warned Palestinians against internecine violence. "Civil war is a red line which no one would dare to cross," he said. "Skirmishes take place, but a civil war is forbidden.

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