Sun, Dec 24, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Israeli PM to meet Abbas for first time in months

AGENCIES , JERUSALEM, AMMAN AND GAZA CITY, GAZA STRIP

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is soon to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli public radio reported yesterday, citing an unnamed senior official.

The meeting is due to take place "within upcoming days," it quoted the official as saying, adding that no firm date has been set.

Abbas said on Thursday that he hoped to meet with the Israeli leader before the end of the year. It would be the first meeting between the two men since an informal encounter in Jordan six months ago.

When questioned about the report, Olmert's spokeswoman Miri Eisin said: "We have not yet fixed a date. The Palestinian side is delaying the encounter."

The report comes days after British Prime Minister Tony Blair called for an initiative to jumpstart the Middle East peace process, which has been in a slumber for six years.

A senior Palestinian official has said that the initiative would be worked out in coordination with the US, and would be unveiled by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her expected visit to the region early next year.

Olmert last week paid a surprise visit to Jordan, whose King Abdullah II has warned of "disastrous" consequences if progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not made in the next six months.

Abbas was due to travel to Jordan on today, but it has been indefinitely postponed according to the Palestinian ambassador to Jordan Atallah Khairy.

"President Abbas is determined to attend the Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem in accordance with the tradition set by the late Yasser Arafat," Khairy said yesterday.

Abbas had been due to hold talks with Abdullah after deadly clashes in the Gaza Strip between his secular Fatah faction and the ruling Islamist movement Hamas following his call last weekend for early elections.

An offer by the king to host a meeting between Abbas and Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya had been rejected by the Palestinian leadership.

Meanwhile, assailants fired on the car of a senior Palestinian security official yesterday, wounding him, a bodyguard and a girl in intensifying factional fighting in the Gaza Strip.

Earlier yesterday, Hamas gunmen and security forces briefly exchanged fire near Abbas' Gaza City compound and the Hamas-run Foreign Ministry.

The deadly confrontations began nearly two weeks ago, with a shooting ambush that killed the three young children of an Abbas-allied intelligence officer, and intensified with Abbas' announcement last week that he is seeking new elections, in a challenge to the Islamic militant Hamas. Hamas has accused Abbas of trying to topple its 10-month-old government.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for yesterday's drive-by shooting in the southern Gaza town of Rafah. The target, Hassan Jarbouh, is the deputy chief of the Rafah branch of the Preventive Security Service, which is loyal to Abbas.

Jarbouh, who was on his way to work, was in a critical condition. His bodyguard and the girl, a bystander, suffered moderate wounds.

In all, 17 people have been killed and scores wounded in factional fighting, including heavy gun battles in densely populated neighborhoods, since the ambush on the young children.

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