The secretary-general of the United Nations is continuing a Middle East peace mission, meeting with Palestinian leaders in the West Bank. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, the meeting occurred as Israel leveled unusually blunt criticism at the top moderate in the Palestinian Authority.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah to discuss advancing the peace process with Israel. But Mr. Ban ruled out talks with the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas.
"At this time I do not have plans to meet with Prime Minister Haniyeh or other Hamas cabinet ministers," he said. "I think the political atmosphere is not fully right."
Hamas has been hoping for international recognition since it formed a unity government with Mr. Abbas and other Palestinian moderates a week ago. But Hamas seeks Israel's destruction and is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and European Union. Hamas continues to reject key international demands for lifting crippling sanctions - namely, renunciation of violence and recognition of the Jewish state.
President Abbas said the Palestinians are committed to a cease-fire and a comprehensive peace agreement with Israel. He said he is committed to bringing about the release of an Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas militants nine months ago and held in Gaza.
But at the Israeli Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert accused Mr. Abbas of failing to keep his promises. He accused Mr. Abbas of blatantly violating a commitment that he would not join a unity government with Hamas until the captive soldier is freed.
Mr. Olmert's comments point to the deep distrust between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and underscore how hard it will be to get the peace process back on track.