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Abbas, Olmert Agree to Hold Talks


The prime minister of Israel and the president of the Palestinian Authority met informally on Thursday in Jordan, and agreed to hold formal talks in the near future.

Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas met, shook hands, kissed each other on the cheek and said they want to meet again soon. It was the first time the two men had met in a year, although the two leaders hold fairly regular phone conversations.

Their meeting was informal. It came at a conference of Nobel Prize winners in the ancient city of Petra, Jordan, being hosted by Jordan's King Abdullah. After the breakfast get-together, Prime Minister Olmert said he will meet again with President Abbas, but that he doubted that much progress could come in talks between the two sides, as long as the Palestinian government is controlled by Hamas, considered a terrorist group by Israel, the United States and the European Union.

Israeli officials refused to comment publicly on when a summit might take place, except to say that Israel will dedicate the coming weeks to trying to coordinate and bring about a meeting between the two men. Palestinian officials say a meeting could take place in two or three weeks. Saeb Erekat, a close aide to Mr. Abbas, says a meeting is long overdue and necessary.

"It is very important for these two men to meet and sit down, and that is why it is essential to prepare for the meeting," he said.

Erekat says, because there has been so little contact between the two sides, those preparations will focus on getting the two leaders to address basic issues.

"Reviving the trust between the two sides, reviving the confidence and getting back to a partnership level," he added.

A spokesman for Hamas expressed doubt that any progress could come from a meeting between the two leaders, saying Palestinians have not come to expect much from high-level contacts between Palestinian and Israeli leaders.

The informal meeting between Mr. Abbas and Mr. Olmert took place just hours after an Israeli air strike killed two Palestinian civilians in a Gaza Strip refugee camp. It was the latest in a series of botched air-strikes targeting Palestinian militants that have missed their targets and struck Palestinian civilians instead. Mr. Olmert addressed the issue, saying he was sorry for the civilian deaths that have occurred over the past two weeks, and that they were against Israeli policy.

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