Israel-Palestinians 2ndLd-Writethru 04-13
Israeli, Palestinian leaders hold unexpected meeting in Jerusalem
Eds: UPDATES with details of meeting, violence in Gaza, Hamas plans for marking Israel’s 60th anniversary. CHANGES byline.
AP Photo JLR115, JLR116, JRL107, JRL105, JRL102
By MARK LAVIE
Associated Press Writer
JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli and Palestinian leaders got together for surprise talks Sunday, just days before Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sets off for Washington to meet with President Bush.
An Israeli official said Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert — who sat down together just a week ago — would coordinate peace moves before Abbas’ trip. He would not elaborate on what that meant, and spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting’s agenda was confidential.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Abbas asked Olmert to agree to an Egyptian initiative to arrange an unofficial cease-fire in Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas. But Olmert gave no commitment. Israel refuses to deal with Hamas.
Erekat said the meeting took place Sunday because Abbas was leaving soon for the U.S. He is to meet with Bush on April 23.
Israel and the Palestinians renewed negotiations in November at a U.S.-hosted conference in Annapolis, Md., ending a seven-year impasse. The talks have been troubled by Palestinian militant attacks, by ongoing Israeli construction and military operations in the West Bank, and by the fact that Islamic Hamas militants rule Gaza. Abbas controls only the West Bank.
The U.S. has pressured Israel to ease travel restrictions in the West Bank and give more authority to Palestinian security forces there so that Abbas can point to concrete benefits from peacemaking.
The Palestinians say that Israeli restrictions humiliate them and cripple their economy. Israel says its security measures are vital to prevent Palestinian attacks and that Abbas’ security forces are not yet ready to take control.
In Gaza, violence spiked after a monthlong lull.
An explosion in a Gaza house killed three people and wounded seven, Palestinian officials said. Residents said it was caused by explosives that went off prematurely.
Later Sunday, a Palestinian was wounded in an Israeli airstrike on a house in Gaza City, Palestinians and the Israeli military said.
Last week, militants attacked the Israeli border terminal that pipes the only fuel that reaches Gaza, killing two workers. Israel immediately shut down the terminal and launched raids that have killed 16 people since, including at least six civilians.
Palestinians have warned of a looming fuel shortage, and the director of the territory’s only power plant has said it would have to be shut down this week because its fuel would run out.
Israeli officials said Sunday that the fuel terminal was closed to allow authorities to investigate how the gunmen penetrated the compound. Zeev Boim, an Israeli Cabinet minister, said it would be reopened within days and called the complaints from Hamas about a fuel crisis "absurd."
"What audacity to carry out an attack on the fuel depot ... and then talk about a humanitarian crisis," Boim said.
Also Sunday, Hamas said it will hold its own commemoration of the 60th anniversary of "al-Naqba," Arabic for "the catastrophe," as Palestinians call the creation of the state of Israel. Abbas’ government in the West Bank is planning a separate ceremony.
The date is marked in Israel according to the Hebrew calendar and falls this year on May 8.
About 700,000 Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes during the two-year war that followed Israel’s creation. Palestinians insist the refugees and their descendants, about 4 million people, have the right to return to their original homes in Israel.