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In Italy, Palestinian President Vows to Seek Security and Democracy

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he is determined to guarantee security in the territories and move ahead with democratic reforms. The Palestinian leader spoke with reporters following a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Rome.

President Abbas said the National Palestinian Authority is determined to guarantee greater security in the territories and continue along the path of democratic reforms, from which, he added, there is no going back.

Mr. Abbas was speaking following a meeting with the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini. Talks focused on relations between Israel and the National Palestinian Authority and prospects for the Middle East peace process.

Mr. Berlusconi expressed the hope that with the withdrawal by Israel from the Gaza Strip and the agreement to reopen the Rafah crossing, negotiations will resume that will lead to a positive solution of the peace process.

Italy expressed appreciation for the efforts being made by the Palestinian leader to maintain security and improve the economy. Mr. Berlusconi said Italy is available to provide all necessary assistance to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Mr. Berlusconi repeated an offer to host talks between the two parties in the town of Erice in Sicily. Mr. Abbas said he was ready to accept the proposal immediately, but added that it would have to be discussed with the Israelis.

The Palestinian leader said peace in the Middle East is not something that has to do only with the Middle East but with the entire world, starting with its close neighbors of the Mediterranean and Europe.

Referring to upcoming elections in Israel in March, Mr. Abbas said the National Palestinian Authority would cooperate fully with whoever the new Israeli leader is because he will represent the choice of the Israeli people.

Earlier on Friday the Palestinian leader held talks with Italy's president, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi. At a news conference after their meeting, Mr. Ciampi said that the Palestinian leader has a difficult task ahead.

"He must maintain public order, fight subversive and terrorist movements and make them lose strength," he said. "Violence," Mr. Ciampi added "is the major enemy of the peace process."

Mr. Abbas pledged to end the violence that was reported in this week's primary elections across the Palestinian territories and pledged security and transparency in the upcoming parliamentary polls.

On Saturday, the Palestinian president is to be received by Pope Benedict for the first time at the Vatican.