Tue, May 23, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Israel can only talk to Abbas: Peres

AP , JERUSALEM

Palestinian militants from the Fatah movement protest against the new security volunteer paramilitary force created by the Hamas-led Palestinian government, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Sunday.

PHOTO: AFP

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is the only person Israel can hold peace negotiations with at this time, Israeli Cabinet minister Shimon Peres said yesterday, signaling a rift in the government over how to deal with the Palestinian leader.

The statements by Peres contradicted comments made on Sunday by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who called Abbas "powerless" and "helpless" and too weak to implement any possible peace deal.

Abbas is "the only address" for negotiations, Peres told Israel's Army Radio.

"There is no one else. It is either Hamas or him. Since Hamas is out of the question, Abu Mazen is the only one that can be considered," Peres said. Abbas is also known as Abu Mazen.

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz, leader of the centrist Labor Party, also took issue with Olmert's comments.

"Abu Mazen is the most prominent moderate address in the Palestinian Authority," Peretz said. "There's no reason to take every action to weaken him. Our mission is to strengthen him. Our mission is to strengthen him in order to weaken Hamas."

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