- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 19, 2006

1:21 p.m.

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made a surprise visit to Jordan today for talks with King Abdullah II on ways to revive Mideast peacemaking.

The palace also said Abdullah was offering to host a meeting in Jordan to help resolve Palestinian infighting between the Hamas and Fatah movements. As the statement was issued, the two groups waged fierce gun battles in Gaza City.

A fierce gun battle erupted outside Gaza’s main hospital today, sparking a day of factional violence that sent students diving for cover in their classrooms and brought life in much of Gaza to a standstill.

Four persons were killed and at least 18 were wounded in the violence, which swept away the remains of a tattered truce meant to end a week of fighting that has turned the Gaza Strip into a war zone.

Automatic gunfire echoed across the city, and a Fatah security installation was attacked with mortar fire. Masked Hamas gunmen set up makeshift checkpoints on main roads, forces from the two sides took up strategic positions, and terrified residents shut themselves indoors.

Mr. Olmert’s visit to Amman came in response to an invitation by Abdullah, who is eager to see Israel resume peace negotiations with the Palestinians, a senior palace official said.

In Jerusalem, Mr. Olmert’s office confirmed the meeting, saying the leaders discussed the Palestinian crisis and larger regional issues.

The U.S.-allied monarch has said a return to Arab-Israeli negotiations is vital to curb rising extremism in the Middle East, fueled by the conflict in Iraq. Abdullah has called on Washington to do more on reviving the peace process, which is stalled amid the Palestinian crisis.

The palace official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of Mr. Olmert’s visit, said that the two leaders met for two hours and that the Israeli then returned home.

In the talks, Abdullah urged Mr. Olmert to “engage in negotiations with the Palestinians so that an appropriate framework could be found to relaunch the peace process,” a palace statement said.

The king, whose nation signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, had hosted Mr. Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in June in a failed effort to get both leaders to open direct negotiations.

The palace statement said Abdullah briefed Mr. Abbas on his talks with Mr. Olmert in a telephone call. The palace also said Abdullah would invite the leaders of Hamas and Fatah to talks on ending their conflict.

Hamas and Fatah have been locked in a power struggle since the Islamist militant group defeated Fatah in legislative elections last January. Mr. Abbas’ Fatah party, which seeks peace with Israel, controls the presidency, while the radical Hamas, which is committed to Israel’s destruction, controls parliament and the Palestinian Cabinet.

Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh called for an end to the infighting and urged warring factions to unite in the struggle against Israel.

“This nation, this people will be united in front of the occupation and aggression and will not be engaged, despite the wounds of the past few days, in internal fighting,” Mr. Haniyeh said in a televised speech.

The latest wave of fighting broke out last week and worsened after Mr. Abbas announced plans Saturday to call early elections. Hamas has condemned the plan as a coup, and Mr. Haniyeh has said the Islamist group would boycott any new vote.

In all, 13 persons have died in the week of clashes, making it one of the deadliest bouts of Palestinian infighting ever.

Seeking to ease the tensions, Mr. Haniyeh canceled a planned Hamas demonstration, Hamas officials said.

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