Barak circumspect on Fatah parley, defends decision to allow wide attendance

Defense Minister Ehud Barak was circumspect when speaking about Tuesday's Fatah conference at Sunday's cabinet meeting. "We'll wait and see what happens at the conference, but ultimately, Israel is strong, sure of itself and prepared to stretch out a hand for peace," he said. "Only after the Fatah conference, and during the summing-up as opposed to the preparation stage, will we see how much readiness there is on the other side to move toward a political settlement. I hope there will be such a readiness." He said that Israel was right to allow any Fatah member who wanted to attend the conference to travel to Bethlehem for the event. "This was a correct and very important decision, and we also hope representatives from Gaza will be able to attend," he said. "There is an importance attached to this conference and its representation so that what happens there will gain legitimacy among the Palestinians."