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Israel ready to talk to Mahmoud Abbas

A poll published shows 66 per cent of Palestinians supporting the Hamas' refusal to recognize Israeli status.

india Updated: Sep 19, 2006 23:48 IST

Israel's foreign minister said on Tuesday, the government wants to resume talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to help him reach his goal of leading the Palestinians to independence.

But progress will depend on Abbas' ability to persuade Hamas militants to moderate their violent ideology and abandon their dream of destroying Israel.

Israel's relations with the Palestinians have been largely frozen since Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections in January and formed a government. Last week, the Hamas Cabinet resigned to pave the way for a planned national unity government that is expected to include Abbas' more moderate Fatah Party.

Talks to form the new coalition were temporarily suspended amid a dispute about its governing program. Abbas, who was elected separately in 2005, wants it to include recognition of Israel and the acceptance of past agreements between the two sides, which would fulfill the conditions for the resumption of badly needed international aid.

On Tuesday, Abbas met with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in New York for nearly 90 minutes on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, in the first working session between high-ranking Israeli and Palestinian officials in four months. "I don't see this as one meeting and each side checks off a box and goes home," Livni told Israel's Army Radio. "The idea is to establish a permanent channel of dialogue."

"We have a goal ... of achieving a two-state solution," she said.

Abbas and Livni discussed reopening the talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials, including setting up a meeting between Abbas and Israeli PM Ehud Olmert as soon as possible, Palestinian lawmaker Saeb Erekat said.

Abbas and Olmert had been preparing to meet in June, when Hamas-linked militants captured an Israeli soldier, sparking a widespread Israeli offensive in Gaza and derailing all efforts at talks.

Abbas promised Livni to "exert maximum effort" to secure the soldier's release, Erekat said.

"It was a very, very positive meeting with Mrs Livni. We talked (about) everything," Abbas said.

Livni said she told Abbas that Israel stood by its refusal to deal with Hamas until it renounces violence and recognizes Israel, demands Hamas has resisted.

The US and European Union have called for clear statements meeting those demands before they will restore hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinian Authority.

Olmert ran in March elections on a platform calling for Israel to unilaterally withdraw from much of the West Bank while strengthening its hold over major settlement blocs there. But public support for that plan plummeted after the capture of the Israeli soldier and the 34-day war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon that ended last month.

The government said recently the pullout plan was on hold, and Livni said Israel was interested in advancing the US-backed "road map" peace plan. The road map aimed to establish a Palestinian state by 2005, but it stalled as Israel and the Palestinians failed to carry out their obligations under it.

"The road map is still on the table," she said. Meanwhile, violence continued in the impoverished Gaza Strip, which has been particularly hard hit by the economic sanctions. Outside the parliament building, Hamas militants attacked a tent belonging to demonstrators protesting against the government's inability to pay their salaries.

The militants also attacked four journalists trying to cover the violence.

Masked gunmen also entered the office of the official Palestinian WAFA news agency in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis and beat up the bureau chief, Amru al-Farra. The gunmen demanded that WAFA, which is seen as pro-Fatah, be more objective in its reporting. Despite the deepening hardship in Gaza, a poll published on Tuesday showed that 66 per cent of Palestinians back Hamas' refusal to recognize Israel. However, support for the group has dropped to 38 percent from 47 per cent since it took power in March .

According to the poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, 54 per cent of those questioned were dissatisfied with the overall performance of the Hamas government, with 69 per cent saying they were unhappy with the economic situation. The poll questioned 1,268 adults in mid-September and had a margin of error of 3 per cent.