Abbas, Olmert to hold talks in Egypt

1244.jpgIsraeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will meet next week in Egypt in the first direct talks since Abbas dissolved a coalition government with Islamist Hamas, Israeli and Palestinian officials said Thursday.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak invited Olmert, Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah to the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh for a Mideast summit aimed at renewing stalled peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. 

The regional gathering is the biggest show of support yet by moderate Arab states for the beleaguered Abbas in his bitter showdown with his Hamas rivals, who seized control of Gaza by force last week.

Abbas will appeal to Olmert to resume peace talks, saying the only way to stabilize the situation with Hamas is to show Palestinians that progress is being made on the creation of their own state, spokesman Saeb Erekat said.

Abbas has been bolstered by support from the international community after he dismissed the Hamas-Fatah coalition government and appointed an emergency cabinet earlier this week.

Hamas intent on ’empire of darkness’: Abbas

Potential talks with Israel may do little to repair the political and geographic divide that now exists between Palestinians, with Hamas in full control of Gaza and Abbas’ Fatah movement desperate to avoid a similar fate in the West Bank.

On Wednesday, Abbas ruled out more talks with Hamas, accusing his rivals of attempting a premeditated coup intent on building an “empire of darkness” with its own state in Gaza.

Addressing Palestinians for the first time since Hamas seized control of Gaza a week ago, Abbas said Hamas had attacked “national symbols” during the fighting in the coastal territory, including ransacking the house of the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri rejected Abbas’ statements.

“What he said was disgusting and not appropriate for the Palestinian president,” Abu Zuhri said. “The president has harmed himself with his words.”

After Abbas spoke, at least 2,000 Hamas supporters took to the streets in Gaza City and denounced him as an agent of Israel and the United States.

“Abbas, Abbas, the (Gaza) strip is all Hamas,” the crowd chanted.

Tax funds critical

As immediate steps, Abbas will ask Israel to remove West Bank checkpoints that disrupt daily life and trade, and to transfer hundreds of millions of dollars in Palestinian tax funds Israel froze after Hamas came to power last year.

In Washington this week, Olmert said he would propose to his cabinet on Sunday that it unlock frozen funds, but did not say how much money he thought Israel should release.

Gaza militants fired nine rockets at the Israeli town of Sderot on Wednesday, slightly injuring one person. Hours earlier, Israeli troops backed by tanks and armoured vehicles fatally shot four militants.

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