Olmert, Abbas avoid discussing Jerusalem during summit talks

By Xinhua

Jerusalem : Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas avoided discussing the sensitive issue of Jerusalem during their summit meeting in Jerusalem on Tuesday evening, though they agreed to accelerate peace talks, local daily Ha’aretz reported.

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“The issue of postponing the discussion on Jerusalem to the end of negotiations was not brought up in talks between me and Abbas,” Olmert was quoted as saying after the meeting with Abbas.

“Israel is obligated to prevent a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, but it is not obligated to open the (Gaza) crossings,” Olmert added.

The two leaders met at Olmert’s residence in Jerusalem earlier on Tuesday evening. Heads of the two sides’ negotiation teams, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qurei, also attended the meeting.

Olmert’s spokesman Mark Regev told the press after the meeting, that the two leaders met privately for an hour and with their teams for another hour. “Israel is considering what the Palestinians raised and we reiterated our commitment that there should not be a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.”

“Israel is committed to discussing all the core issues,” Regev said, adding that negotiators would meet on an “almost daily” basis.

During the past few days, the two sides have been scuffling over whether the fate of Jerusalem will be discussed immediately as the Palestinians desire, or be postponed to the end of the process as the Israelis want.

Olmert said earlier this week that Abbas had accepted an Israeli suggestion to delay talks on the Jerusalem issue until the end of negotiations on Palestinian statehood. However, the Palestinians denied it.

Israeli coalition party Shas has threatened that if the issue of Jerusalem is discussed in peace talks it will pull out of the government, leaving Olmert without a parliamentary majority.