Israel's Olmert And Palestinian Leader Abbas To Meet Next Week

Tuesday, March 6th 2007, 6:44 am
By: News On 6

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will meet next week for their second summit in a month, but this one will focus on humanitarian matters rather than the core issues of the Mideast dispute, an Olmert aide said Tuesday.

The meeting is expected to be held before Abbas' Fatah Party and the militant Hamas group form a unity government, which likely will complicate relations between the two sides.

``We expect them to meet next week, although an exact date has yet to be set,'' Olmert spokeswoman Miri Eisin said. ``It's important to keep up with these meetings in order to keep open the channel of communication.''

The two leaders met Feb. 19 along with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The Israeli daily Maariv said the coming meeting would be one-on-one, with Rice possibly coming later in March for separate meetings with the leaders.

Maariv said Olmert would try to strengthen personal ties with Abbas, while seeking to persuade him to back off his newly forged alliance with the militant Hamas.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the two sides had not completed preparations and no final date had been set for an Abbas-Olmert meeting. He said he hoped the two leaders could meet ``in the near future.''

Last month's summit produced few results amid Israeli and U.S. concerns over the planned Fatah-Hamas unity government. Rice reported no progress in restarting talks on a final peace deal, the ostensible purpose of the meeting when it was announced.

The power sharing deal between Fatah and Hamas, which controls the Palestinian parliament, appeared to fall short of international demands that the government recognize Israel, accept previous peace deals and renounce violence. The deal only says the government will ``respect'' past peace agreements.

Despite the accord, Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, of Hamas, have so far failed to agree on the composition of a unity government, and street fighting between the two sides has flared up again.

After an inconclusive session Monday, Abbas and Haniyeh were expected to meet again Tuesday to discuss the crucial issue of who would be interior minister, who controls security forces.

Olmert's own ability to maneuver is tenuous. After an inconclusive war last summer in Lebanon, his approval rating has plummeted below 20 percent, leaving him politically unable to carry out far-reaching concessions that would be needed for a peace deal.

He is also under constant public pressure to end continuing rocket attacks by Palestinian militants from Gaza into southern Israel. Four Israeli civilians were injured Tuesday by rocket fire, the military said.

The attacks, which have triggered extensive Israeli army raids into Gaza in the past, killed four Israelis in southern Israel last year.