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Abbas Meets Blair on Palestinian Issues
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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Monday told visiting British Prime Minister Tony Blair that he would press on with early elections as a truce between his security forces and the Hamas government came under strain in the Gaza Strip.

Speaking at the joint press conference after their talks earlier in the day, Abbas firstly thanks Blair for his and his country's constant efforts to help resolve the Palestinian-Israeli problem.

He said that the Palestinian territories are in a "dangerous" situation, especially after days of internal fighting and factional clashes, calling on the international community to intensify the efforts to find a final solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

He also expressed his readiness to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to restart immediate peace talks with an aim of ending Middle East violence, adding that Israeli and the Palestinian leaders "need each other" in seeking the permanent solution to the conflict.

Describing the early elections as a retest of the Palestinian people's will, Abbas said that "I was elected in 2005 by the will of the Palestinian people and Hamas was also elected by the will of the Palestinian people, so it is time to retest the will."

"We are going to early parliamentary and presidential elections and there is nothing to stop this," he asserted.

He told the reporters that he had explained to Blair how and why he called for early elections at the very moment, saying that it was a must way to end the siege imposed on both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Responding to Abbas' call, Blair praised him, describing the latter's speech on Nov. 16, which carried the early elections call, as a "landmark" speech.

He called on the international community to support Abbas, saying that the next few weeks would be a critical time for the Middle East.

Meanwhile, Abbas also urged Blair to exert more efforts to lift the international embargo imposed on the Palestinian people as soon as possible and help the release of the Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

Major donors, mainly the European Union, have suspended funding the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) after Hamas Islamists took office in March.

In response to Abbas' demand, Blair reiterated his commitment to the Palestinians, saying that he would never give up his efforts to help relieve the Palestinians' suffering.

Speaking of the internal crisis between the Hamas-led government and his presidential establishment, Abbas stressed that political pluralism does not mean multiplicity of powers in the Palestinian Territories.

"The current situation is very difficult from the security aspect and we seek to overcome tension," said Abbas.

Street violence and clashes between Hamas loyalists and Abbas-controlled security members are running high following Abbas' call for early elections, which was regarded by the ruling Hamas as a coup to its government.

On Nov. 16, President Abbas delivered a televised speech, in which an early elections call was carried with the aim of stopping the deteriorating political and security crisis between the ruling Hamas movement and his Fatah movement.

But on the contrary to his whishes, the situation in the Palestinian lands degraded into armed clashes after his call.

While calling for the international support to Abbas, Blair also denied any negotiations with the Hamas-led government or any member close to the ruling Islamic movement, stressing that Hamas can not veto any progress that could help easing the people's suffering.

Last week, an aide to Prime Minister Ismail Haneya of Hamas announced that the United Kingdom is working on a new initiative to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Haneya's political advisor, Ahmed Yousef, hinted that the plan might be announced during Blair's visit to the region.

But Blair said there was no way to think of speaking or contacting people who rejects internationally-agreed principles, referring to Hamas which refuses to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept previously reached peace deals.

Blair held talks with Abbas on Monday morning over a series of key regional issues, including the early elections call, Palestinian unity government, prisoners' swap deal and the embargoon the Palestinians.

He is also scheduled to hold talks with his Israeli counterpart Ehud Olmert later in the day.

(Xinhua News Agency December 19, 2006)

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