Abbas ready to meet Olmert 'without conditions,' says new PM still undecided.
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
Egypt and Jordan have expressed their full backing for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's efforts to form a unity government with Hamas, PA officials said Wednesday.
Abbas returned to Ramallah Wednesday after a two-day visit to Cairo and Amman, where he met with President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah to seek their support for the proposed unity government.
"The talks were successful because both Mubarak and Abdullah expressed their full backing for the unity government," one official told The Jerusalem Post. "They also promised to exert pressure on the US and the EU to accept the unity government and lift financial sanctions imposed on the Palestinians ever since Hamas came to power."
Abbas also met in Cairo on Tuesday night with Assistant US Secretary of State David Welch and briefed him on the outcome of his talks with Hamas over the formation of a unity government. Abbas, his aides said, demanded guarantees from the US that the financial sanctions would be lifted after the establishment of the unity government.
However, they added that Welch did not give a "definite reply" on this issue, telling Abbas that Washington was waiting to see the new line-up and the political program of the unity government.
"Our biggest hope is that the unity government will end the international sanctions," Abbas told reporters shortly before leaving Amman. "We want to move to the next phase; we want normal life to return to Palestine."
Abbas denied reports that his Fatah party and Hamas had agreed to appoint Muhammad Shbair, former president of the Islamic University in Gaza City, as prime minister of the proposed unity government.
The denial came as a surprise to many Fatah and Hamas representatives, who were almost certain that Shbair, who is closely associated with Hamas, would replace Ismail Haniyeh as prime minister.
"He's a known figure," Abbas said when asked about Shbair's candidacy. "There's him and there are other candidates. We haven't yet decided on one person."
Abbas's remarks could also be seen as an indication that the talks over the formation of a unity government are still facing many obstacles. Hamas and Fatah leaders have reported significant progress in the talks over the past few days.
But they have also admitted that not all points of difference have been resolved.
Abbas, who is scheduled to head to the Gaza Strip later this week for additional talks on the unity government plan, said he was prepared to meet Prime Minister Ehud Olmert unconditionally to discuss ways of reviving the peace process.
"Representatives from our office and his office are meeting to arrange for such a meeting," Abbas added. "I'm ready to meet with Olmert at any time and place, but we have to prepare well for the meeting."
Meanwhile, a senior Hamas official who returned Wednesday to the Gaza Strip from Egypt through the Rafah border crossing brought with him $2 million in cash, sources close to the Islamist movement said. The official was identified as Ahmed Bahar, deputy speaker of the Hamas-dominated Palestinian Legislative Council.
Bahar is the second Hamas representative to arrive at the Rafah border crossing with a large sum of money.
On Tuesday, Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri was briefly detained by the Egyptian authorities after arriving at the border crossing with suitcases containing $2 million in cash. Masri claimed that the money was donated by various organizations and individuals in Saudi Arabia.
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