- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2007

TEL AVIV — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, his popularity surging in the latest public-opinion poll, won a commitment yesterday from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to release more Palestinian prisoners.

The prisoner release was discussed at a summit at Mr. Olmert”s residence in Jerusalem. It would be timed to coincide with holy month of Ramadan and would mark the second amnesty since Hamas” violent seizure of power in the Gaza Strip in June.

Mr. Abbas and Mr. Olmert are working on a peace deal ahead of the U.S. convened regional summit of Arabs and Israelis.

“It was emphasized that every effort must be made to ensure the success [of the meeting],” said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. “The Israeli prime minister agreed to release a group of prisoners, from the West Bank and from the Gaza Strip, during the first week of the month of Ramadan.”

Still, no final date has been given for the prisoner release, and it is not known how many of the 10,000 Palestinians jailed by Israel will go free.

Israel has also unfrozen tens of millions of dollars in customs proceeds collected on behalf of the Palestinians and agreed on an amnesty program for hundreds of fugitive militants from the Fatah Party.

That may be helping Mr. Abbas” approval rating, which increased to 45 percent from 36 percent in June, according to a survey released by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Survey Research. Support for Mr. Abbas” Fatah party rose five percentage points.

Popularity of the militant Islamist group Hamas by contrast has dipped by five percentage points since last March, possibly because only one in five Palestinians support their military takeover of Gaza.

“Findings show that a larger percentage of the public blames Hamas rather than Fatah for the problems confronting the Gaza Strip such as the closure of the Rafah Crossing and the electricity cutoff,” the pollster said.

However, the poll identified a weak point of Mr. Abbas” Palestinian Authority: About 49 percent of Gazans feel safe compared with 35 percent in the West Bank.

For the first time, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad joined the Olmert-Abbas talks. Mr. Fayyad is expected to oversee a reform of the Palestinian security services. At the meeting, he emphasized the need to resume security cooperation with the Israeli military.

The sides appointed negotiating teams to chart out the understandings that will be reached ahead of the international meeting. Mr. Olmert and Mr. Abbas are expected to meet once more before the end of the month.

The two have been meeting on average every other week to discuss the outline of a potential peace accord — the first negotiations in more than six years.

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