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Olmert meets with Abbas; Israeli leaders snub Carter

From the Associated Press

The Israeli and Palestinian leaders held surprise talks Sunday, as former President Carter received a cool reception in Israel on a Mideast visit that includes plans to meet with Khaled Meshaal, the political head of Hamas.

An Israeli official said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert -- who sat down together just a week ago -- would coordinate peace moves before Abbas travels to the U.S., where he is to meet with President Bush on April 23.

The officials would not elaborate, 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 the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Hamas. But Olmert gave no commitment.

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Israel refuses to deal with Hamas, the Islamic militant group that is sworn to Israel’s destruction.

Israel and the Palestinians renewed negotiations in November at a U.S.-sponsored conference in Annapolis, Md. The talks have been troubled by Palestinian militant attacks, by Israeli construction and military operations in the West Bank and by the fact that Hamas militants rule Gaza.

In an interview Sunday on ABC, Carter said Hamas would have to be included in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

A schedule released by the Atlanta-based Carter Center showed no plans for the former president to meet any of Israel’s key players -- Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni or Defense Minister Ehud Barak -- during this week’s visit, which began Sunday.

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The only high-ranking official on Carter’s schedule was Israel’s head of state, President Shimon Peres. The 83-year-old former U.S. leader held a closed meeting with Peres shortly after his arrival.

A senior Israeli official said “scheduling problems” was the official reason given for the high-profile snub -- even though Olmert recently took time to chat with “Prison Break” star Wentworth Miller.

But the real reason for the cold shoulder is Carter’s plan to meet with Meshaal this week in Damascus, Syria, the Israeli official said.


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