Mon, May 22, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Abbas and Livni meet in Sharm El-Sheikh

TIME TO TALK The Palestinian president met the Israeli foreign minister in Egypt yesterday as the Israeli Cabinet agreed to release frozen Palestinian tax revenue

AGENCIES , JERUSALEM AND SHARM EL-SHEIKH, EGYPT

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was met Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni yesterday in the highest-level talks between the two sides since the shock January election win of the Islamist militant movement Hamas.

The Middle East peace process has been stalled for more than a year, and the election triumph by Hamas dealt a further blow to peace efforts, with the Israeli government freezing all contacts with the Hamas-led government.

Violence flared in the Palestinian territories at the weekend, with four Palestinians including a local Islamic Jihad military commander killed in an Israeli air raid on the Gaza Strip on Saturday.

A Palestinian woman was also shot dead during a dawn raid by Israeli troops in the Balata Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank yesterday.

Abbas said on Saturday that his talks with Livni, on the sidelines of a World Economic Forum conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, would "certainly pave the way for a meeting with [Israeli] Prime Minister Ehud Olmert upon his return from Washington."

Olmert, who is due to meet US President George W. Bush tomorrow, has vowed to redraw the borders of Israel by leaving parts of the occupied West Bank but retaining the largest Jewish settlements, with or without agreement from the Palestinians.

Abbas said he would reiterate to Livni -- Olmert's official number two -- that the "first and sole reference [in the peace process] is the roadmap," the peace plan drawn up by the US, Russia, the EU and the UN.

"Our arms are stretched to [achieve] peace," he added.

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who was also due to meet Abbas yesterday, said the Abbas-Olmert meeting would be an opportunity to assess the chances of relaunching the stalled peace process.

"We should revive the negotiations, but we must first coordinate our positions with the Americans," Peres told Israeli radio.

Abbas, a moderate from the Fatah faction, is committed to a negotiated settlement to the Middle East conflict despite the rise to power of Hamas which refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist nor renounce violence.

As president of the Palestinian Authority and chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Abbas is responsible for peace negotiations and not the Hamas-led government.

Meanwhile the Israeli Cabinet yesterday authorized the release of 50 million shekels (US$11.18 million) in frozen Palestinian taxes in a bid to ease a humanitarian crisis in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, officials said.

Political sources said the money, a fraction of some US$220 million in tax and customs levies that Israel has withheld from the Palestinians since they voted Islamic militant group Hamas into power, would go towards buying medical supplies for hospitals.

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