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Abbas Says He is Ready to Meet Israeli Prime Minister


British Prime Minister Tony Blair met with Palestinian leaders in the West Bank, on the second day of a peace mission to the Middle East. He held talks earlier with senior Israeli officials, including the prime minister.

Mr. Blair traveled to the West Bank town of Ramallah and met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The British prime minister said that in the wake of the war in Lebanon, it is time to revive the "road map" peace plan.

"We must obviously recommit ourselves again to the two-state solution, and to the road map as the means of getting there. That is the position of the international community; it is important that it will remain so," Mr. Blair said.

The road map has been dead since the election of the Islamic militant group Hamas in January. Hamas rules out negotiations and seeks Israel's destruction.

But Mr. Abbas, who is from the more moderate Fatah party, said he is ready to meet unconditionally with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The Palestinian leader spoke through an interpreter at a joint news conference with Mr. Blair.

"I would like to emphasize before you today our readiness to resume serious negotiations that put an end to the conflict and an end to the cycle of the violence in the region," he said.

Mr. Abbas has been holding talks with Hamas on forming a national unity government, after five months of Hamas rule left the Palestinian Authority in disarray. Hamas is broke in the wake of international sanctions and is unable to the pay the salaries of 165,000 government employees.

Mr. Blair said a unity government could win international recognition.

"I would like to say so far as I am concerned that if such a government is formed, then I believe it is right that the international community deal with such a government," he said.

But Hamas rejected Mr. Blair's conditions for recognition - renouncing violence and recognizing Israel.

Mr. Blair also discussed peace prospects Saturday with Prime Minister Olmert in Jerusalem. Mr. Olmert said that he, too, is ready to meet Mr. Abbas, signaling that long-stalled peace talks could resume.

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