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German Chancellor Merkel Meets Israeli, Palestinian Leaders

German Chancellor Angela Merkel met Israeli and Palestinian leaders Sunday in the latest international bid to revive the Middle East peace process. Germany and Israel enjoy warm ties, but as Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, Ms. Merkel kept the Palestinian Authority at arms length.

Chancellor Merkel is trying to build on fresh diplomatic momentum that has raised hopes of getting the peace process back on track. Last week, Arab leaders revived a peace initiative, offering Israel full diplomatic ties with all Arab states in exchange for an Israeli return to the 1967 borders.

Ms. Merkel holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, which is a key player in the Middle East peace process.

Her first meeting was with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem. He said that while Israel faces grave threats from its enemies, there is also a new opportunity for peace with its Arab neighbors.

Mr. Olmert said the strong friendship between Israel and Germany will enable the two countries to work together toward peace.

Ms. Merkel said that Germany and the European Union are committed to Israel's security.

She said Europe would make every effort to help Israel and the Palestinians get back to the negotiating table.

Ms. Merkel also traveled to the West Bank town of Ramallah for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr. Abbas urged Israel to accept the Arab peace initiative and take constructive steps to move it forward.

But underscoring the complexities, Chancellor Merkel refused to meet with Palestinian Cabinet ministers from the Islamic militant group Hamas. Even though Hamas formed a unity government with moderates including Mr. Abbas last month, the group continues to reject international demands to renounce violence and recognize Israel.

Ms. Merkel said that until Hamas meets those conditions it cannot be a partner in the peace process.