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Bush, Olmert Back Palestinian President


U.S. President George Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert are backing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas following his dismissal of a unity government led by the Islamic militant group Hamas. President Abbas' Fatah group retains control of the West Bank, which is Israeli occupied, after Hamas took power in the Gaza Strip. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on a meeting Tuesday between Mr. Olmert and Mr. Bush at the White House.

President Bush says he and the Israeli Prime Minister share a common way forward toward an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. And that vision is based on helping Palestinian moderates led by President Abbas.

"He was elected. He is the president. Secondly, we recognize that it was Hamas that attacked the unity government," the president noted. "They made a choice of violence."

Hamas won democratic elections last year. But President Bush says those leaders have failed the Palestinian people by sparking the violence in Gaza that led to President Abbas swearing-in a new cabinet on Sunday.

The United States and European Union moved quickly on Monday to back Mr. Abbas's new government by announcing an end to an economic and political embargo put in place after the Hamas electoral victory in January 2006.

Prime Minister Olmert says he stands ready to meet again with President Abbas, but he did not say he is ready to revive peace talks with the Palestinians, which collapsed in 2000.

"The idea that I have is to talk with him of the current issues that can help upgrade the quality of life for the people and provide them better security in the West Bank and to share with him the efforts to combat terror," he said.

Since Hamas gained control of Gaza, Israel has sealed the border crossings into the strip, leading to fears of a humanitarian crisis. Prime Minister Olmert says Israel will continue to provide everything that is necessary to meet humanitarian needs.

"Israel will not be indifferent to the human suffering in Gaza," he added. "Israel will be different from the Palestinians themselves, because the reality is that all this suffering is caused by Palestinians against their own people. What Hamas was doing in Gaza is absolutely atrocious and intolerable."

Hamas refuses to recognize Israel or renounce violence. Israel, the European Union and the United States consider it a terrorist group. Much of its support comes from Syria.

Prime Minister Olmert says he is ready to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Ahead of Tuesday's talks at the White House, President Bush said Israel does not need U.S. mediation to initiate talks with Syria. In the past, the Bush administration has been cool to the idea of Israeli-Syrian talks.

The president and prime minister also discussed efforts to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Mr. Bush said it is a "serious threat" to the security of the Middle East, and he will continue working with allies to tighten economic sanctions.

Iran says it is enriching uranium only for peaceful civilian purposes.

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