ehud olmert 88.
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Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is beginning to hold high level diplomatic meetings in place of ailing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and is scheduled to meet by the end of the week with the foreign ministers of Spain and Germany, as well as with EU Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner.
Ferrero-Waldner, who arrived Monday and held talks in the Palestinian Authority, is scheduled to meet Olmert on Tuesday.
"This is a testing moment for leaders in both Israel and the Palestinian territories," she said in a statement before her arrival. "Neither the situation arising from Mr. Sharon's illness, nor the challenges to law and order in the Gaza strip, should distract them from the goal of seeking peace. I hope the elections due on both sides in the coming months help create new impetus in the peace process."
She said that the upcoming elections in the PA are "an important milestone on the road to democracy and should go ahead on schedule," and also praised Israel's decision to allow voting in east Jerusalem.
Ferrero-Waldner is bringing with her a commitment of $24 million in various aid projects for the Palestinians. The money will variously go to help the Palestinians with voter registration and polling activities; buy x-ray machines, metal detectors, and computers for the Rafah crossing projects; and improve sewage-treatment and electric service in Gaza.
Olmert is also scheduled to meet Tuesday with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos, here to take part in events marking 20 years since the establishment of diplomatic ties between Israel and Spain.
On Thursday Olmert will meet German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who will arrive for a two-day visit to the region - his first since becoming foreign minister. His talks are expected to focus in Israel on the PA elections as well as on the Iranian nuclear issue. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to visit on January 29 for two days.
US Senator John Kerry also arrived in Israel Monday, part of a 12 day swing through the Middle East and Asia, with stops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Jordan, Kuwait, Israel and India. This is Kerry's second visit here since losing to George W. Bush in the 2004 US presidential race.