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Olmert’s historic Palestine visit

Ehud Olmert has become the first Israeli prime minister to visit a Palestinian town since the outbreak of fighting seven years ago.

world Updated: Aug 07, 2007 01:35 IST

Ehud Olmert on Monday became the first Israeli prime minister to visit a Palestinian town since the outbreak of fighting seven years ago, meeting under heavy guard with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to talk about the creation of a Palestinian state.

The Israeli leader took a security risk in coming to the biblical desert town, but also gave a symbolic boost to Abbas, who stands to gain stature by hosting Olmert on his own turf.

Accompanied by two helicopters, Olmert arrived by motorcade at a five-star hotel just a few hundred yards from a permanent Israeli army checkpoint on the outskirts of Jericho.

The meeting was held in one of the West Bank's most peaceful areas. However, it posed a challenge to Olmert's security detail, since Abbas' security forces in the West Bank are still weak. Abbas' troops failed to prevent Hamas militants from seizing the Gaza Strip by force in June.

The meeting also tested renewed Israeli-Palestinian security coordination in the West Bank, following the fall of Gaza to Hamas. The Israeli army sealed checkpoints around Jericho, while Palestinian police blocked roads around the hotel.

The Abbas-Olmert meeting is one in a series of sessions, meant to prepare for an international Mideast conference in the US in November. However, both sides appear to have conflicting expectations.

The Palestinians hope the two leaders will sketch the outlines of a final peace deal, to be presented to the US conference, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Monday.

The four core issues of a future peace deal are the final borders of a Palestinian state, a division of Jerusalem, a removal of Israeli settlements, and the fate of Palestinian refugees.

"What they need to do is establish parameters for solving all these issues," Erekat said. "Once the parameters are established, then it can be deferred to experts" for drafting.

However, David Baker, an official in Olmert's office, said the core issues would not be discussed now.

The leaders will discuss humanitarian aid to the Palestinians and Israeli security concerns, as well as the institutions of a future Palestinian state, Baker said.

Baker said the meeting is a signal of Israeli good will, adding that Olmert "intends for this to be a productive meeting to enable progress with the Palestinians."