Abbas says he'll ask Israeli prime minister in upcoming meeting to begin peace talks

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June 5, 2007 13:48
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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Tuesday he'll urge Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in their upcoming meeting to start talks on a final peace deal. Israel has said it won't negotiate unless the Hamas, which governs in a coalition with Abbas' Fatah movement, recognizes Israel and renounces violence. The Palestinians say Israel is using the Hamas boycott as a pretext for avoiding negotiations because it is unwilling to make far-reaching concessions. Abbas and Olmert have met several times in Jerusalem in recent months, but their next meeting, expected to be held this week, is to take place for the first time in the West Bank. The exact date and place are not final, but the most likely venue is the desert town of Jericho. Abbas said Tuesday that in the meeting, he'll demand the resumption of peace talks that broke down in 2001, in the early months of the second Palestinian uprising. "I will reaffirm the necessity to start negotiations so we are not stuck in a relentless cycle of violence," Abbas said in a televised speech marking the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Mideast War in which Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, territories the Palestinians want for their state. Abbas said he'll also raise with Olmert the continued expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the construction of Israel's separation barrier, which slices off about 10 percent of the West Bank. He said he'll demand the release of Palestinian prisoners _ more than 9,000 are being held by Israel _ and insist Israel transfer hundreds of millions of dollars in tax rebates it has withheld since Hamas came to power last year. The withheld funds, money owed the Palestinians, deprives them of about two-third of their revenue and increases their dependence on foreign aid. "If the Israelis want to minimalize the agenda, it is my duty as the elected president of the Palestinian people to put every single issue vigorously on the table," he said.

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