NEW YORK - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday that his country
would be a "genuine partner" of a new Palestinian government and promised to
consider releasing hundreds of millions of dollars in frozen tax funds.
Palestinian President Mahmoud
Abbas dissolved a coalition government between his Fatah movement and the
militant Islamic Hamas group after Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip this
past week. Abbas then appointed Salam Fayyad, a Western-backed economist, to
form a new emergency government, which he swore in Sunday in the West Bank.
In this photo released by Israel's Government Press Office,
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, left, shakes hands with
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert prior to a meeting in New York, Sunday,
June 17, 2007. [AP]
"I think that despite what has happened in the last two days there is ... a
genuine opportunity that the moderate forces headed by President Abbas will be
able to form a solid government administered by the Palestinians," Olmert said
Sunday in a speech to a conference of presidents of major Jewish organizations
in New York.
He said such a government would find "a genuine partner in Israel," and
indicated that Israel could ease travel restrictions on the West Bank and
release Palestinian tax receipts frozen after the Hamas-led government took
power last year.
Olmert also said he would be willing to meet again with Abbas to continue
talks on peace and other issues that had been disrupted by the recent outbreak
of Palestinian infighting.
Olmert met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon earlier Sunday, and was
expected to head to Washington on Monday to speak to top administration
officials. He will meet with President Bush on Tuesday.
Hamas' bloody takeover of the Gaza Strip looks certain to dominate talks in
Washington. The victory by the Islamic militants - routing the forces of the
moderate Fatah movement - has turned the Israeli-Palestinian conflict inside
out, creating both challenges and opportunities for Israel and the United
States. Olmert is likely to spend most of his visit with Bush coordinating a
strategy that would shun Hamas in Gaza while bolstering Fatah in the West Bank.
In his meeting with Ban, Olmert raised the issue of placing an international
peacekeeping force between Gaza and Egypt, though Egypt and Hamas are likely to
object to the proposal, a senior government official said on condition of
anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the talks.
The official also said Israel proposed expanding the mandate of the UN
peacekeeping force in Lebanon to include blocking arms shipments from Syria to
militants in Lebanon, and pressed Ban regarding the status of two captive
Israelis soldiers in Lebanon.
Shortly before the meeting, Olmert received word of two rocket attacks on
Israel by militants in Lebanon. The rockets caused no casualties and little
damage but raised the specter of a new flare-up on the volatile border less than
a year after Israel's bloody war against Hezbollah.
"It's a very disturbing day because we had an attack from Lebanon," Olmert
said. "We are still clarifying the circumstances. Lebanon has been very quiet in
the last nine months and hopefully will continue to be so."
Hezbollah denied involvement in the attack, and Olmert
said it was most likely the work of a small Palestinian faction affiliated with
al-Qaida and Islamic Jihad.