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Abbas, Olmert agree to talks in Egypt

The summit next week between the Palestinian and Israeli leaders will be the first since Hamas took control of Gaza. Jordan also will attend.

June 22, 2007|Richard Boudreaux | Times Staff Writer

JERUSALEM — At Egypt's initiative, Israel and the moderate Palestinian leadership agreed Thursday to join a regional summit aimed at reviving peace talks and isolating Hamas.

The four-way meeting, also including Jordan, will take place Monday in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik, officials said. It will be the first encounter between Israeli and Palestinian leaders since the violent takeover of the Gaza Strip last week by the militant group Hamas left only the West Bank under the control of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Sensing that the realignment had freed Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to make concessions, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak invited the two men to talk.

Jordanian officials said King Abdullah II would join the meeting in a show of support for Abbas. Jordan and Egypt both recognize Israel, and their leaders fear that Hamas' control of Gaza will inspire homegrown Islamist groups that oppose their secular regimes.

Miri Eisin, a spokeswoman for Olmert, said the prime minister agreed to meet Abbas "to talk about mutual cooperation and ways to go forward on the Israeli-Palestinian track."

The peace process stalled after the collapse of the Camp David talks in July 2000 and the start of a Palestinian uprising a few months later.

Sporadic talks between Abbas and Olmert have yielded little progress despite prodding by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

At Rice's urging, Olmert agreed in March to biweekly talks with Abbas that would address confidence-building measures and possibly delve into the outlines of a future Palestinian state.

But Abbas' decision to join with Hamas in a power-sharing government alienated the Israeli leader, and the two met just once after that, in April.

Abbas fired the Hamas-led government last week after the Gaza takeover and named an emergency Cabinet, which in effect rules only the West Bank. He has promised to disarm militias of Hamas and his secular Fatah movement, both of which fight against Israel.

Israeli officials have welcomed Abbas' moves. But they said Olmert would tell the Palestinian Authority president that he must show progress in ridding the West Bank of armed militants before the two sides can address core disagreements, including the fate of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees and ongoing Israeli construction of West Bank settlements.

Yuval Steinitz, a member of Israel's Knesset, or parliament, from the right-wing Likud Party, said Olmert should use the summit to demand a halt to the smuggling of arms through Egypt to Hamas militants in Gaza.

Olmert is ready to make some concessions. He said he would propose to his Cabinet on Sunday that it release to Abbas some of the $550 million in tax revenue that Israel has collected on behalf of the Palestinians but withheld since Hamas came to power in an election last year.

Aides to Abbas said he would ask Israel to remove security checkpoints that disrupt daily life and trade in the West Bank. He is also expected to argue that unless Olmert soon broaches the subject of Palestinian statehood, Hamas, which calls for destroying the Jewish state, will gain followers in the West Bank.

"The most important thing to realize is that time is of the essence," said Saeb Erekat, a senior advisor to Abbas.

A Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Fawzi Barhoum, said the summit would "not bring any benefit to the Palestinians or the world."

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boudreaux@latimes.com

Special correspondent Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.

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