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Olmert-Abbas meeting canceled

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JERUSALEM — Israeli and Palestinian leaders yesterday called off a planned summit this week, dealing a new setback to efforts to halt fighting between the Israeli army and militants in the Gaza Strip and restart peacemaking.

The Palestinian foreign minister, meanwhile, said the so-called Quartet of Mideast negotiators had invited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to a meeting in Egypt on June 25. An official in Mr. Olmert's office, David Baker, said no invitation had been received.

In an article yesterday, Mr. Olmert said Israel was ready to discuss an Arab peace proposal, but his Palestinian counterpart called the climate between the two sides "catastrophic." They made their comments, in dueling opinion pieces in the British newspaper Guardian, as the two sides reflected on the 1967 Mideast War, which began 40 years ago Tuesday.

Mr. Olmert and Mr. Abbas had been expected to meet today in the West Bank town of Jericho, in what would have been their first talks on Palestinian territory. Mr. Baker said the meeting was postponed at the request of the Palestinians.

Palestinian officials said Israel has rejected demands to release hundreds of millions of dollars in frozen Palestinian tax revenues, restart peace talks or accept Mr. Abbas' proposal for restoring a collapsed cease-fire in the Gaza Strip and extending it to the West Bank.

"Israel is not responding positively to these demands, so the president decided not to go to this meeting," Palestinian Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr said. He later said Mr. Olmert and Mr. Abbas were invited to Cairo by the Quartet — the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia.

In Washington, where Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz was to meet with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday, the State Department played down the canceled meeting this week.

"They have pledged to get together, to meet," spokesman Sean McCormack said. "The timing and location and logistics around it are going to be up to them, but we're confident that they are still going to get together."

Under prodding from Miss Rice, Mr. Olmert and Mr. Abbas agreed in March to meet every two weeks with the aim of discussing the outlines of a permanent peace deal. However, they have met only once since then, and any chances of reviving peace talks have been clouded by the resumption of fighting in Gaza.

A five-month truce collapsed last month when Hamas militants began firing barrages of crude rockets into southern Israel. The Israeli army has responded with dozens of air strikes and several brief ground incursions. More than 60 Palestinians, most of them militants, and two Israeli civilians have been killed.

In new violence, Israeli aircraft struck a group of militants in northern Gaza early yesterday, killing one, Palestinian officials said. The army said the militants were planting a bomb at the time, and Hamas said in a radio broadcast that the dead man belonged to the group.

In the West Bank, a 67-year-old Palestinian man was killed and seven family members were wounded in an Israeli arrest raid, police said.

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