King to attend Mideast summit

KING ABDULLAH WilL take part in a four-way peace summit in Egypt with the Palestinian, Egyptian and Israeli leaders on Monday, a Royal Court official said on Thursday.

“The King will seek to back the Palestinian position and rally support for the Palestinians and help them restore their legitimate rights,” the official was quoted as saying by the Jordan News Agency, Petra.

The official added that the Monarch’s participation “underlines Jordan’s keenness to support efforts aimed at reviving the peace process, ending the Israeli occupation and launching a comprehensive peace process that would lead to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state”.

The four-way Middle East summit is to try to bolster Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his new Western-backed Cabinet after Hamas rivals seized the Gaza Strip, Agence France-Presse reported.

The Israeli and the Palestinian leaders confirmed they would attend the summit to be hosted by Egypt on Monday in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh, the site of a string of high-profile but ultimately futile Middle East meetings.

Aides said the Palestinian president would head to Egypt on Sunday for talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak ahead of the summit. A spokesman in the office of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert confirmed that he would attend in a bid to boost the authority of the moderate Abbas but denied that the summit would amount to peace talks.

“The purpose will be to strengthen the moderates and to promote Israeli-Palestinian ties. These are not peace talks,” he said on Thursday.

Olmert spokeswoman Miri Eisin said he intended to secure approval ahead of the summit to release at least $600 million in tax revenues owed to the Palestinians to the new emergency Cabinet sworn in by Abbas in the West Bank.

The prime minister would “ask the Cabinet on Sunday to end the freeze on the transfer of funds owed by Israel to the Palestinian Authority,” she said.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Arab leaders would seek further measures from Israel to ease life for the 2.5 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, to which Abbas’ writ is now effectively confined.

“The summit aims to boost Palestinian-Israeli relations and give a boost to the relationship between the Palestinian Authority and Israel,” Aboul Gheit told reporters.

“It also aims to ease the constraints on the Palestinian people and create an appropriate climate for a resumption of the peace process.”

Egypt’s actions were challenged in parliament after its Arab affairs committee issued a statement describing Hamas as “glory-seeking warlords who have forgotten the challenges facing the Palestinian people.”

Saad Al Katatni, leader of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood bloc, retorted that “it is not [Egypt’s] role to lean towards one of the two camps. Our role is to work to lead everyone to dialogue”.

Olmert already said after talks with US President George W. Bush on Tuesday that he was ready to consider lifting some of the hundreds of checkpoints that dot the West Bank, impeding the daily life of residents.

Israeli Cabinet minister Meir Sheetrit said he was worried that little concrete would come out of the talks in Egypt, but added that he was heartened by Abbas’ new tough approach to Hamas after 15 months of uneasy power-sharing.

“I am not very optimistic because the results of previous summits organised in Sharm El Sheikh have been disappointing,” the housing minister said.

“This time Abu Mazen [Abbas] seems to have finally decided to get tough against Hamas while the Arab leaders cannot allow the creation of a ‘Hamastan’ that will threaten all countries in the region.” Confirmation of the summit came after the Palestinian president delivered a withering attack against the Islamist movement Hamas for its armed seizure of the Gaza Strip last week and ruled out any dialogue with the “traitors”.

“No dialogue with putschists, murderers and terrorists,” he thundered Wednesday in an address to a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, of which he is chairman but of which Hamas is not a member.

The PLO gave its approval on Thursday for early presidential and parliamentary polls under new rules that will effectively exclude Hamas.

The decision of the PLO central council, which has legislative powers when the organisation’s full 700-member parliament-in-exile is not in session, still has to be endorsed by Abbas.

But a senior Palestinian official told AFP that the emergency Cabinet sworn in by Abbas on Sunday after he dismissed the previous Hamas-led government could begin preparations for the elections as early as next month.

The PLO central council recommended “the holding of fresh presidential and parliamentary elections once the necessary conditions have been put in place with a return to calm in Gaza”, council member Saleh Raafat told AFP after the meeting in Abbas’ West Bank power base of Ramallah.

It urged the winding up of “all armed militias”, including not only the armed wing of Hamas but also groups loyal to Abbas, which would be integrated into the mainstream security forces, Raafat said.

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