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Israel Plans Gestures to Strengthen Palestinian President Abbas


Israel is planning to offer goodwill gestures to Palestinian moderates in the West Bank after the fall of the Gaza Strip to the Islamic militant group Hamas. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, the steps will be presented at a four-way Middle East summit next week.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert plans to bring a package of confidence building measures to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas when they hold a summit meeting in Egypt on Monday. Mr. Olmert says Israel wants to strengthen the moderate Abbas government in the West Bank after Hamas seized control of Gaza last week.

"I prefer to see not only the dangers but also the chances, not only the difficulties and there are difficulties, but also how these events can open up new roads for better cooperation and better understanding with many of the Palestinians that live outside of Gaza," he said.

The gestures are expected to include releasing some of the $600 million in tax revenues that Israel withheld when Hamas took power in March of last year. Israel also plans to take steps to improve the daily lives of Palestinians in the West Bank, such as easing travel and trade restrictions.

The aim is "to establish a new environment that will be first be good for them but which can also serve to create a better understanding, which will lead toward perhaps a meaningful political process between us and them," said Mr. Olmert.

Mr. Abbas is expected to push for the resumption of a peace process that would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will host the summit next Monday at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik, with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders and Jordan's King Abdullah.

The international community is also getting involved in peace efforts. One day after the summit, low level envoys from the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia will meet in Jerusalem. The so-called "Quartet" of world powers is throwing its full support behind the Abbas government, while isolating Hamas.

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