Arab and Israeli leaders held
a high-profile summit Monday aimed at strengthening Palestinian President
Mahmoud Abbas and containing the militant Hamas after its victory in Gaza by
giving a push to the peace process.
Ahead of the gathering, a series of messages released by militants
underlined Gaza's turmoil, which has raised Arab and Israeli fears that the tiny
coastal territory could become a breeding ground for extremists.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert,
center, is surrounded by officials and bodyguards as he arrives for a
summit in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Sunday, June 25,
2007. Israel's prime minister downplayed expectations ahead of Monday's
summit bringing together Israeli and Arab leaders, saying the meeting,
designed to boost Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in his struggle
against Hamas, would provide a launching point for renewed peace talks,
not the venue for a major breakthrough. [AP]
Hamas-linked militants holding an Israeli soldier for the past year released
an audiotape of him urging Israel to strike a deal for his release. A British
journalist kidnapped in Gaza appeared in a video wearing an explosives belt that
his captors threatened to detonate if security forces try to free him. And
al-Qaida's deputy leader tried to woo Hamas into an alliance and called on
Muslims to attack American and Israeli interests in support of the group.
Egypt, the host of the summit in this Red Sea resort, is particularly worried
about a spillover of violence from Hamas-held Gaza and organized the gathering
in a bid to isolate the Palestinian militant group.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert held separate talks with Egyptian
President Hosni Mubarak and Abbas. Jordanian King Abdullah II arrived later in
Sharm to join them in a four-way meeting later in the evening.
The Arabs and Palestinians are pressing Israel to take immediate advantage of
the Hamas militants' expulsion from the coalition government and make quick
peace progress despite the Palestinians' split between a Gaza ruled by the
Iranian-backed Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank run by Abbas' Western-backed
Fatah in the West Bank.
But Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said major peace
negotiations cannot take place until the Palestinians end their divisions. He
said Abbas needs to win "the full support of the Palestinians who voted for
"Obviously if there's more than one representative of the Palestinians then
we cannot negotiate a deal," Palmor said. "So we will need to have and the
Palestinians will need to have one sole authorized, recognized interlocutor."
Olmert played down expectations of major Israeli concessions during the
gathering. "Don't wait impatiently tonight for the outcome as if at the end of
the day you are going to see us sitting and signing a peace treaty. It will take
time," Olmert said.
Still, he said the gathering would show all sides' "genuine desire to build
up a process" of peace-making.
Abbas is hoping the summit will pave the way for Israel to ease security
restrictions in the West Bank, where his emergency government holds sway, and
for a resumption of peace negotiations. On Sunday, Israel agreed to release to
Abbas desperately needed funds it has withheld from the Palestinian government.
Speaking in Gaza on Sunday, deposed Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh
of Hamas, denounced summit hopes as "illusions" and a "mirage."
"The Americans won't give anything. Israel won't give us anything. Our land,
our nation will not come back to us except with steadfastness and resistance,"
Earlier Sunday, Olmert's Cabinet approved the release of tax funds that
Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians but has withheld since Hamas swept
Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006. Israel is holding $550
million in frozen funds, but the Cabinet decision did not say how much of the
money would be released, or when.
The Israeli freeze on the money rendered past Palestinian governments unable
to pay full salaries to government employees, causing hardship in the already
The Sharm el-Sheik summit comes a day ahead of a gathering in Jerusalem of
the Quartet of Mideast negotiators ¡ª the U.S., EU, U.N. and Russia. The hope is
that the meeting in Egypt could lead to more in-depth international efforts to
prod peace talks that broke down amid violence in 2001.
At the same time, momentum is growing for outgoing British Prime Minister
Tony Blair to be named as an international envoy for the Middle East. The
Financial Times newspaper reported Monday that the Quartet members had agreed to
confirm his appointment at their Jerusalem gathering.
On Tuesday, Mubarak is to meet with Saudi King Abdullah in Sharm el-Sheik,
seeking to unify an Arab front behind Abbas.
Mubarak is afraid a Hamas-ruled Gaza on his country's border could embolden
Egypt's own banned Islamic opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, and spawn terror
attacks. Abdullah is afraid the Fatah-Hamas conflict could spread to the West
Bank and spill over to neighboring Jordan, where about half the population is
And both, along with Saudi Arabia, are afraid Gaza could become a forward
position for their regional foe, Iran.