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Palestinian FM Warns of Dangerous Situation

Palestinian Foreign Minister Nasser al-Kidwa says the continued expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories and Israel's construction of a security barrier in the West Bank are creating a dangerous situation in the Middle East. The foreign minister's remarks came the day before Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to hold talks with President Bush.

The Palestinian foreign minister says Mr. Abbas is hoping that three days of lobbying the Bush administration and Congress will improve U.S. support for the Palestinian Authority.

Mr. Abbas is expected to point out during his visit to Washington that he has secured a truce with militant groups, made reforms within his government and is consolidating Palestinian security forces.

Mr. al-Kidwa says the Palestinian leadership will ask the Bush administration for support in stopping the expansion of Jewish settlements and the building of Israel's security barrier in the West Bank, especially in areas close to Jerusalem.

"The situation on the ground is marred with the same extremely dangerous practice by Israel, namely settlement activities and the continuation of the construction of the wall, in addition to specific actions in Jerusalem and around it," said Nasser al-Kidwa, "This is the central problem that faces us."

Mr. al-Kidwa says President Abbas will ask for intensified U.S. pressure to get Israel back to the bargaining table.

The Palestinian foreign minister says the planned withdrawal of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip should trigger responsibilities both sides have under the internationally-supported road map peace plan.

"The relationship between this disengagement on the one hand and the road map on the other hand, of course we insist that such disengagement should constitute the beginning of the implementation of the road map," said the Palestinian Foreign Minister. "It should never be Gaza and then we will see, and this is another essential point for us during this visit."

Mr. al-Kidwa says it is time for the Palestinians and Israelis to sit down and begin negotiating issues that must be settled before the creation of a Palestinian state.

He says discussion of subjects such as borders and the future of Jerusalem will help keep the region on a more peaceful path after years of bloodshed.

"The Palestinian side believes that we have to start discussion and negotiations on final status issues as soon as possible, and definitely immediately after the withdrawal from Gaza," he said. "Agreeing on the final settlement, the shape of the final settlement, is essential for the two sides to avoid confrontation, misunderstanding and contradictions between positions and actions."

The Bush administration has strongly backed Mr. Abbas in the past, and such support is considered crucial as his ruling Fatah party prepares for parliamentary elections.

The party's main challenge is from the Islamic militant group Hamas, which has gained popularity among the general Palestinian public.