- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 21, 2006

From combined dispatches

JERUSALEM — Israel authorized the release of $11 million in frozen Palestinian taxes yesterday in a bid to ease a humanitarian crisis ahead of Ehud Olmert’s first trip to Washington as prime minister.

In the Gaza Strip, meanwhile, Palestinian police thwarted an attack on a security commander — the second ally of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to be targeted in two days — amid fears of open conflict between Mr. Abbas’ Fatah Party and the Hamas militants who control the Palestinian parliament.

Even though both Israel and the United States are working to isolate Hamas, the Jewish state has been under pressure to help avert the collapse of the Palestinian Authority.

Israeli political sources made it clear that none of the tax funds to be released would reach the Palestinian Authority. Israel plans to use the money to buy medical supplies based on the advice of a foreign auditor and transfer them to Gaza hospitals.

In another sign that Israel is shifting its stance, Mr. Olmert’s two top deputies met Mr. Abbas at an economic summit in Egypt, the highest-level official contact since Hamas won Palestinian elections in January.

Mr. Abbas said at the summit that he would try later this month to get all Palestinian factions to agree on a “two-state solution,” suggesting that they would recognize Israel.

During the 45-minute meeting, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni assured Mr. Abbas that Israel remained committed to the internationally backed “road map” peace plan. They also discussed plans for Mr. Abbas and Mr. Olmert to meet soon.

“It was a very good meeting, a very important meeting and the first of many,” Mrs. Livni said.

In Washington, where he will meet President Bush tomorrow , Mr. Olmert hopes to win U.S. support for his plan to quit some parts of the occupied West Bank and annex others in the absence of peace talks with the Palestinians.

He said on CNN’s “Late Edition” yesterday that Mr. Abbas was “powerless” to stop militants, but that he might meet him after his return from Washington if Mr. Abbas tries to disarm terrorist organizations and force the new Palestinian government to recognize past deals with Israel.

In Gaza City, Palestinian security forces yesterday discovered a 150-pound bomb planted along a route used by a motorcade carrying Rashid Abu Shbak, a close ally under whose leadership Mr. Abbas consolidated control over the Fatah-dominated security forces earlier this year.

Security officials said it was intended to kill Mr. Shbak. The explosives were found as police conducted their daily inspection of his route before he headed to work, officials said.

A day earlier, Mr. Abbas’ intelligence chief was seriously wounded when a bomb filled with metal pellets ripped through an elevator shaft in his Gaza City headquarters.

Fatah officials hinted that they thought Hamas was behind both incidents but stopped short of making an open accusation.

After the bomb was discovered, hundreds of Fatah activists took to the streets in Gaza City, expressing support for the security forces and volunteering their services.

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