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(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Thursday made a surprise visit to Aqaba to meet with Jordan's King Abdullah II.
During the meeting, Abdullah said that for peace in the Middle East, all parties must honor their commitments to a mechanism and specific timeline for a comprehensive settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
According to a statement from the Royal Palace, Abdullah reiterated Jordan's opposition to Israeli plans for building settlements on Palestinian territory and said such plans go against what was agreed on at the US-hosted Mideast peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland, last November.
Abdullah urged Israel "to halt unilateral activities that may obstruct progress" toward peace, the statement added. The Jordanian monarch also warned that a stalled peace process threatened the region's future, its security and stability.
On his part, Olmert expressed willingness to move forward in negotiations with the Palestinians with the aim of reaching a final settlement to the conflict, and repeated Israel's commitment not to construct new settlements in the West Bank.
According to Israel Radio, Olmert also discussed with Abdullah the escalating tensions between Israel and Egypt. The two were expected to speak of Egypt's concession to Hamas demands on Wednesday to let hundreds of stranded Gazan pilgrims returning from Mecca cross into the Gaza Strip through the Rafah border crossing.
The move was opposed by Israel due to fears that terrorists were also crossing into Gaza and that Hamas was smuggling money into the Strip. One defense official called Egypt's decision "against all agreements." Olmert was expected to tell Abdullah that Israel had no intention of damaging diplomatic relations with Egypt, but that security agreements had to be fulfilled.
The radio station reported that the meeting was arranged in order to "synchronize" Israeli and Jordanian positions on regional developments ahead of US President George W. Bush's historic visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories next week.
Abdullah expressed hope that Bush's visit to the region would encourage the Palestinians and Israel to implement commitments they made at Annapolis.
Olmert's brief visit to the kingdom came a day after Abdullah met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, also in Aqaba, to discuss ways to push forward Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that would lead to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state before the end of 2008.
Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev said the prime minister updated the Jordanian monarch on the situation in Gaza Strip, where Israeli tanks and warplanes attacked a series of targets Thursday, killing at least eight people in some of the heaviest fighting in recent months.
Olmert stressed that the Palestinians needed to effectively deal with the "terrorist threat" from militant Palestinian factions and reiterated Israel's commitment "not to build settlements and not to expropriate land for the purpose of settlement construction," Regev said.
Officials said Olmert's plans to visit the Jordanian king had been kept under wraps due to security concerns.