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Israel's Prime Minister Cautions Against High Expectations at Egypt Summit


Israel's prime minister says he hopes for progress, but he cautioned against any major breakthrough at a summit, later Monday, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah. VOA's Jim Teeple has more from our Jerusalem Bureau.

Speaking just before he left for the Egyptian resort, Sharm al-Sheikh, Mr. Olmert said he hopes the meeting will revive the Arab-Israeli peace process.

"We will see two prominent national leaders, shaking hands; the head of the Palestinian Authority and the Prime Minister of Israel expressing a genuine desire to build up a process, focusing not on terror, not on hatred, not on rejection, not on fighting each, other but rather on making peace," he said.

At the same time, Mr. Olmert says he will tell Mr. Abbas Israel expects cooperation from the Palestinians on security and terrorism. The Israeli leader says achieving peace with the Palestinians will take time and that he does not expect a major breakthrough to emerge from the summit.

Sunday, Israel agreed to release frozen tax and customs money to the Palestinians it has held for about a year, following the Hamas victory in Palestinian legislative elections. Israel says it will release about $360 million out of about $600 million it is holding, once it can be guaranteed none of the money will reach Hamas.

Palestinian officials say they want to see a resumption of negotiations aimed at ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and progress towards the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Nabil Amir, a close aide to Mr. Abbas, told the Voice of Palestine radio station Palestinians want to see benchmarks towards progress emerge from the summit.

Amir says Israel needs to do more than just release Palestinian money it holds, saying Palestinians will seek support from President Mubarak and King Abdullah at the summit to pressure Israel to make concessions.

American officials have urged Israel to take more steps to ease hardships on Palestinians in the West Bank, such as easing Palestinian access to territory in the Jordan Valley and dismantling some of the numerous roadblocks in the West Bank that cause daily hardship for Palestinians.

Israel's army has rejected softening the measures, saying removing roadblocks and easing travel restrictions for Palestinians will put Israelis at risk for suicide bombings.

Monday's summit takes place as the Palestinian territories are now effectively divided between the West Bank, governed by President Abbas and his Fatah movement and Gaza, ruled by Hamas.

Speaking late Sunday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh denounced the summit.

Haniyeh says the summit in Sharm al-Sheikh is nothing more than a mirage for Palestinians, saying past summits have never resulted in gains for the Palestinians.

Both Egypt and Jordan have offered their full support to Mr. Abbas, since he dismissed the Hamas-led Palestinian unity government, following the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip. International donors have also said they will resume aid to the Palestinians, now that Mr. Abbas has formed a new emergency Palestinian government, free of Hamas participation.

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