Mubarak to Host Olmert-Abbas Summit in Sharm Next Week

A regional summit is scheduled to take place next week at the Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, with the participation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. The summit is being hosted by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and will be attended by Jordan's King Abdullah II. It aims to bolster Abbas' position and encourage dialogue with Olmert, following the Hamas takeover in the Gaza Strip and the establishment of an emergency government in Ramallah.

Olmert reached an understanding with U.S. President George W. Bush during his visit to Washington on Tuesday that it is necessary to support Abbas, a senior political source in Jerusalem said yesterday.

The decision to aid Abbas was made despite skepticism about his chances for success, in view of past experience.

Olmert and Bush agreed they must not allow the impression that Abbas failed because Israel or the U.S. failed him.

On his return leg from the U.S., Olmert told reporters that he is satisfied with his visit and noted the great opportunity in the fact that Hamas is no longer in the Palestinian government.

Meanwhile, for the first time since the new Palestinian government was established, senior level contacts between Israel and the Palestinian Authority were initiated yesterday.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni spoke yesterday on the telephone with Salam Fayyad, the PA prime minister, and discussed the implications of the Hamas takeover in the Gaza Strip.

Livni stressed the importance of the establishment of the new government in the PA, saying that "it enables progress in matters that have been at an impasse during the period of the unity government and enables progress in the peace process."

Sources in Livni's office said that the conversation with the Palestinian PM was coordinated with Olmert.

Livni and Fayad had been in close touch during the months prior to the establishment of the Fatah-Hamas unity government, and met occasionally to discuss the political horizon of the Palestinian track.

In his first address to the Palestinian people since the Hamas takeover of Gaza, Abbas went on the offensive yesterday and angrily lashed out at the Islamic militants, accusing them of trying to build an empire of darkness in the Strip and pledging he would not talk to murderous terrorists.

Abbas was uncharacteristically harsh in his verbal attack on Hamas. He said the group attacked national symbols, including the home of Yasser Arafat.

"There is no dialogue with those murderous terrorists," he said.

"Our main goal is to prevent sedition from spreading to the West Bank... to prevent violations by any party, and to deal [with everyone] equally, based on law," he said.

Abbas delivered the televised speech to the Palestine National Council of the Palestine Liberation Organization, seeking approval for his recent steps, such as declaring a state of emergency, dismissing the Hamas-led unity government and setting up an emergency cabinet of moderates.

He also hinted at the possibility of replacing the Palestinian parliament, where Hamas has a majority, with the Palestine National Council. Such a measure would be necessary since under current rules, the emergency government would require parliament's approval after a month.

He said Palestinian travel documents would in the future only be issued from the West Bank - and if recognized internationally, as expected - would mean Gazans can no longer travel abroad. Security personnel will be deployed in force in the West Bank to restore law and order, he added.

Despite the harsh setback of losing Gaza, Abbas reiterated that the time is ripe for restarting peace talks with Israel, under the umbrella of an international conference.

At one point, Abbas also described in great detail what he said was a Hamas attempt to assassinate him. He obtained footage, he said, of Hamas members dragging large amounts of explosives through a tunnel they had dug under Gaza's main road - the one he takes on his way to his office - and saying this is for Abu Mazen (Abbas' nickname). He said he sent the tape to Hamas' supreme leader, Khaled Meshal in Damascus, and to Arab leaders to illustrate Hamas intentions.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri hotly rejected Abbas' statements.