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Olmert says summit with Abbas to project peace hopes

Israeli prime minister hopes the summit with Palestinian president would project a new spirit of peace after Hamas's takeover of the Gaza Strip in a civil war.

world Updated: Jun 25, 2007 18:42 IST

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he hoped his summit with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday would project a new spirit of peace after Hamas's takeover of the Gaza Strip in a civil war.

But Olmert cautioned, in a speech in Jerusalem, against expectations of any breakthrough at the four-way meeting which Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah will also attend in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Ahead of the summit, Israeli officials said Israel was reluctant to remove roadblocks and other West Bank restrictions to boost Abbas's new government, shorn of Hamas Islamists, until he did more to curb militants.

Olmert, speaking in broadbrush terms, said it was important for Arab nations to see all four leaders "expressing a genuine desire to build up a process" focusing on peacemaking rather than rejection, an allusion to Hamas's refusal to recognise Israel.

"This is the thrust of this evening's meetings and I hope that it will help project that spirit across the entire Middle East in order to move forward," he said.

"Where we can be flexible, where we can show a degree of generosity, where we can establish an environment of goodwill, there, I think, we should do it. And this is the true basis upon which we will move forward in the near future." Olmert said.

Olmert was expected at the summit -- the first since Hamas routed Abbas's Fatah forces in Gaza more than a week ago -- to outline some of the measures he would be prepared to take to bolster a leader whom Israeli officials have called ineffective.

"The important thing for President Abbas is to revive the peace process and the political negotiations in order to end the Israeli occupation and establish a Palestinian state," senior Abbas aide Saeb Erekat said in Sharm el-Sheikh.

Abbas responded to Gaza's takeover by sacking the unity government led by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas and by quickly forming an emergency administration in the West Bank backed by the United States, the European Union and Arab allies.

Olmert said on Sunday he would present security demands to Abbas. Israel's goal is to isolate Hamas economically, diplomatically and militarily in the Gaza Strip, while allowing funds to flow to Abbas's new administration in the West Bank.

Olmert's cabinet on Sunday agreed to start unfreezing hundreds of millions of dollars in Palestinian tax revenues to help finance the emergency government.

"(Abbas's) government can be a partner if he will be serious about implementing (steps to curb militants), and I believe that the release of funds should be overseen by monitors to ensure that money is allocated to appropriate purposes," Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit said.

Olmert's spokeswoman Miri Eisin said the summit would focus broadly on the "framework" for talks with Abbas going forward. "That means talking on the political level about an independent (Palestinian) state as a clear-cut goal of the moderates."

Washington has asked Olmert to take concrete steps to help Abbas, such as easing restrictions on Palestinian access to the Jordan Valley, as well as removing major barriers, checkpoints and roadblocks near major Palestinian population centers, including Hebron, Bethlehem and Nablus.

But an Israeli official said: "We're not giving any of that upfront ... One suicide bombing and we're back to square one."
Another senior Israeli official said Olmert wanted to be sure that Abbas had no plans to reconcile with Hamas.
Israel plans to cut off all but humanitarian aid and basic services to step up pressure on Hamas in its Gaza stronghold.

First Published: Jun 25, 2007 18:40 IST