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Archive for Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Abbas tells Bush time is ripe for peace talks

June 19, 2007

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— Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, emboldened by an outpouring of international support in his showdown with Hamas militants, on Monday told a receptive President Bush that it was time to restart Mideast peace talks.

Bush planned to relay their thoughts on how to proceed to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at a meeting today in Washington, a White House spokesman said.

Abbas' Hamas rivals were headed in a vastly different direction, facing deepening isolation after their violent takeover of the Gaza Strip.

Abbas expelled Hamas from the Palestinian government last week after the Islamist group routed his forces in Gaza, leaving the president's more moderate Fatah movement in control of the West Bank. Olmert made no public statements Monday, but Israel has expressed its desire to negotiate with a Palestinian government without Hamas. It remained unclear, however, how much peace talks could accomplish.

Israel and Egypt have sealed Gaza's borders, raising fears of a possible humanitarian crisis. After a weekend run on basic supplies, Gazans were calmed by Israeli assurances that humanitarian aid would go through.

But Israeli officials said they had not figured out how to deal with Gaza's Hamas rulers.

At the Erez crossing between Israel and Gaza, where about 300 Gazans have been trapped trying to escape Hamas rule, a clash between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen killed at least one Palestinian and wounded 15, the Israeli rescue service and Palestinian hospital officials said. Israel TV said as many as four people were killed.

Families and children, along with fleeing Fatah security men, slept on cardboard on the concrete floor of a narrow tin-roofed tunnel at the crossing where scores have been huddled for three days with no access to water or toilets. Many of the children had streaked faces and dirty feet.

Even after the shooting, Palestinian medics said, many of the wounded were treated on the spot because they refused to go to Gaza hospitals.

Israel said it was only allowing the passage of international organizations' staff, people with special permission and humanitarian cases.

"We believe these 300 are not in danger and they can go home," military spokesman Shlomo Dror said.

Also Monday, militants in Gaza fired two rockets at southern Israel, the military and local media reported. One landed in the town of Sderot. Two Israelis were treated for shock. There was no claim of responsibility from Gaza.

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