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Abbas invited to Egypt summit

- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2007

THE WASHINGTON TIMES TEL AVIV — Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak invited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to a regional summit next week, a strong show of support for the embattled Palestinian leader by a leading moderate Arab government in the region.

The invitation was also extended to leaders of Jordan and Israel for a meeting at the Red Sea port of Sharm el Sheik, an event that is supposed to highlight Mr. Abbas" status as an international leader capable of delivering on the Palestinians" long-held goal of statehood.

Mr. Mubarak and Jordan"s King Abdullah II are to meet with Mr. Abbas on Sunday, prior to the next day"s four-nation meeting to include Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

"We want the summit to remove the [economic] siege and the checkpoints that suffocated the lives of the Palestinian people," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top official in Mr. Abbas" administration.

Egypt has occasionally played host to Arab-Israeli summits, but they"ve produced few tangible achievements in the years since the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising in September 2000.

Mr. Rabbo said the Palestinian leader would seek a resumption of peace talks aimed at establishing a Palestinian state, but he warned that a summit with no concrete results was liable to cause more harm than good, the Associated Press reported.

A successful summit would signal the resumption of ties between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which has been boycotted by the Jewish state and the international community since Hamas came to power in March 2006.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has spoken by telephone with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who became the head of an emergency government this week that excludes Hamas.

A spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry yesterday said the summit has important resonance because the presence of Egypt and Jordan indicates that Arab world supports Mr. Abbas of the secular Fatah group, rather than the militant Islamist Hamas.

"The Palestinians have just come out a difficult internal conflict, and we think its very important that moderate Arab states support moderate Palestinians, and that they put their political capital behind peace and a two-state solution," said spokesman Mark Regev.

Israel is scheduled to unfreeze hundreds of millions of dollars in Palestinian customs revenue collected on the behalf of the Palestinian Authority. The money had been withheld in response to Hamas' rise to power last year.

In the past, Sharm el Sheik summits have concluded with carefully worded joint statements, but they've produced little tangible progress.

Egypt borders the Gaza Strip, now under the control of Hamas, while Jordan borders the West Bank, which is controlled by Mr. Abbas' government.

Egypt fears Hamas' militancy will spill over the border and pose a threat to its secular government, which has outlawed political parties based on religious doctrine.

Israel and Egypt also have a stake in securing Gaza's border in the Sinai desert, where a sophisticated tunnel network is thought to have supplied Hamas with the arms needed to expel Fatah from Gaza.

In the past, Egypt has reportedly rejected proposals to deploy an international peacekeeping force at its Gaza crossing, claiming that it was capable of policing the border.