Date: 09 / 03 / 2007 Time: 16:07
Ramallah - Ma'an - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert are to meet on Sunday, the head of the negotiation affairs department in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Dr. Saeb Erekat, confirmed on Friday.
However, Israeli sources have played down the importance of the meeting, saying that the only subject that might seriously be discussed is the subject of the captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, and the number of Palestinian prisoners that Israel might agree to be released in a prisoners' exchange deal under Egyptian mediation.
Erekat said in a media statement on Friday that the meeting with Olmert has an open agenda, including humanitarian and economic issues, in addition to the issue of the prisoners, the abducted Palestinian ministers and the siege. He stressed that Israel must "end the unjust siege imposed on our people".
Olmert's spokeswoman, Miri Eisin, has said, however, that the final touches regarding the details of the meeting are still not completed. Officials in Olmert's office told the Israeli newspaper 'Yedioth Ahronot' on Friday, "the meeting with Abbas is empty of hope, the ceiling of expectations is low and the summit is going to take place only to please the Americans."
Officials said that in the meeting on Sunday, Olmert will demand that Abbas provides clarifications concerning the US $100 million in Palestinian taxes that Israel released to him earlier in the current year.
Abbas is also expected to try to convince Olmert to lessen his opposition to the Palestinian unity government. Olmert has previously vowed to boycott a unity government that includes Hamas members, even if headed by Abbas, as long as the government fails to acknowledge Israel's right to exist, reject violence or accept the previous peace agreements.
Abbas is also expected to raise the possibility of expanding the fragile truce agreement to include the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip. Some Palestinian factions oppose the expansion of the truce, and Israeli officials say that they will not discuss this agreement until the Palestinians stop launching projectiles from the Gaza Strip.
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