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Israeli PM, Palestinian president meet for first time in six weeks

RIA Novosti

07/04/2008 16:34 TEL AVIV, April 7 (RIA Novosti) - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met on Monday in Jerusalem to discuss the peace process in their first meeting since a devastating Israeli raid on the Gaza Strip.

In late February, some 120 Palestinians, many of them civilians, died as Israel launched an attack on the Hamas-controlled enclave. Israel said the attack was in response to rocket attacks on Israeli border towns from Gaza. Abbas halted peace talks with Israel after the assault.

However, after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Jordan on March 30-31, the Palestinian leader announced that he would resume talks.

Olmert and Abbas were to talk in the meeting about what each side has done to meet its obligations following a peace conference in the U.S. last November.

Israel and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) resumed peace talks last year after a seven-year hiatus at a U.S.-sponsored Middle East summit in Annapolis. They pledged to do everything possible to draft a peace settlement treaty by the end of 2008, as well as come to an agreement on the form of a future independent Palestinian state.

However, ongoing violence and Israeli residential construction projects in east Jerusalem and the West Bank have left little room for optimism.

"We have the desire to reach an agreement in 2008," Olmert told the Haaretz newspaper in February. "I am not sure we will make it, but we are determined to make a giant step forward to end this dispute once and for all."

U.S. President George Bush is due to visit the region in May.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party controls the West Bank after being ousted by the hard-line Islamic group Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and some EU states, from the Gaza Strip in a bloody conflict last June.

Fatah receives financial assistance from the West, while Gaza is fully isolated and boycotted by the PNA, the U.S. and Israel. Hamas has called for reconciliation with Fatah, but refuses to give up control of Gaza.

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