Abbas hopes for Mideast talks

Palestinian optimistic on chances for a Dec. summit with Olmert

December 22, 2006|By Joel Greenberg | Joel Greenberg,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

JERUSALEM -- Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said yesterday that preparations are under way for a long-awaited summit with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and that he hopes the meeting will take place by the end of the month.

Abbas spoke as a cease-fire between his Fatah movement and the rival group Hamas took hold in the Gaza Strip after more than a week of factional violence. Gunmen were off the streets, replaced by police, shops were open and schools that had closed during the clashes reopened. Gunbattles in recent days had paralyzed large parts of Gaza City.

In Ramallah, Abbas gave an upbeat assessment of prospects for a summit.

"We always showed our readiness to meet Prime Minister Olmert, and it is no secret that there are ongoing discussions to prepare this meeting, and it is no secret that we hope it will take place before the end of this year," Abbas said at a news conference with visiting Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema.

A spokesman for Olmert, Jacob Galanti, said he did not know of any firm plans for a meeting. The two have not had a formal summit since Olmert took office.

Preparations for a summit have bogged down before amid disagreements over an agenda. Abbas has sought the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, but Olmert has ruled that out unless militants release an Israeli soldier captured in June in a cross-border raid from Gaza.

A truce between Israel and Gaza militants was strained yesterday by renewed rocket fire at Israel, apparently triggered by killings of Palestinian militants by Israeli forces in the West Bank.

The army said four rockets had been launched at Israel. One veered off course and hit a home in the town of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip, exploding in a bedroom where three children were sleeping, family members said. A 2-year-old suffered broken legs and his brother and sister were lightly wounded by shrapnel, a local hospital reported.

Abbas has criticized the rocket fire, saying it invites Israeli retaliation.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the rocket attack, but Islamic Jihad said it had fired rockets at Israel on Wednesday in response to the killing of two of its members in an Israeli raid in the West Bank. Israeli forces have killed six Palestinian militants in West Bank raids over the past week.

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz has said that because there is no cease-fire in the West Bank, Israeli forces will continue operations there to thwart attacks.

There has been no Israeli reaction to rocket firings from Gaza since the truce took effect Nov. 26, but Olmert warned Wednesday that Israel would not hold back indefinitely. The army said more than 40 rockets have been fired at Israel since the truce began.

Joel Greenberg writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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