Occupied Jerusalem/Ramallah, West Bank: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert are to meet in the coming days in occupied Jerusalem ahead of an expected visit by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and key meetings of international mediators, officials said.
Palestinian officials said Abbas and Olmert would meet today. David Baker, an official in Olmert's office, said the date was not yet final but it could be today or tomorrow. The two leaders have been meeting regularly in recent months as part of a US-backed effort to revive Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking and convene an international peace conference expected in November in Washington.
Abbas will visit Saudi Arabia tomorrow and tell King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz that he still backs a Saudi-sponsored power-sharing deal with Hamas provided it cedes control of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian ambassador in Riyadh said.
Abbas will tell the monarch that "the Makkah agreement which he personally sponsored is still a valid way out of the tense situation in the Palestinian territories, on condition that the situation in Gaza returns to what it was" before Hamas seized power in mid-June, Jamal Al Shobaki said.
In preparation, the quartet of Mideast mediators - the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations - is to convene in Washington toward the end of this month and meet members of an Arab League committee that has been promoting a pan-Arab plan for peace with Israel. Abbas aides, meanwhile, said the president will seek Olmert's undertaking to begin drafting a proposed agreement on statehood principles during his talks.
The aides said the two leaders have made some progress in recent talks towards narrowing differences over the nature of a future Palestinian state ahead of a US-sponsored conference expected in November.
But Israeli officials said differences remained over the scope of any agreement - Olmert wants to keep the statehood principles vague while Abbas wants them to be detailed.
"Some progress has been achieved between the two leaders on some final status issues," a senior Palestinian official who insisted on anonymity told Reuters. He declined to give details.
"But nothing has been put in writing so far and we expect them to agree in Monday's meeting to ask joint committees to start drafting points of agreement," the official said.