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Palestinian Leader Welcomes Israeli Peace Initiative

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's peace initiative.

Mr. Abbas told reporters in Amman, Jordan Tuesday that Mr. Olmert's plan is a "positive" step.

On Monday, Mr. Olmert said he is ready for peace talks if a new Palestinian government recognizes Israel and militants release a captured Israeli soldier.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department confirmed that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will meet Thursday with Mr. Abbas in the West Bank town of Jericho. The U.S. also has welcomed Mr. Olmert's speech, saying it holds a lot of promise.

Since Sunday, a ceasefire has largely held in the Gaza Strip. However, Palestinian militants fired at least one rocket into Israel today. No casualties were reported. Militants have sporadically fired rockets into Israel despite the ceasefire.

Israeli officials say the Jewish state has agreed in principle to allow Mr. Abbas to send to Gaza a security force loyal to him. The 1,000-member force would help monitor the ceasefire.

In other news, European Union and Arab leaders, meeting in Finland Tuesday, voiced hopes for a breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh began his first foreign tour since taking office in March. Mr. Haniyeh, of the militant group Hamas, is on a tour of Arab and Muslim countries.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP .