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Abbas, visiting Gaza, prods Israel for talks

GAZA CITY --The Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, said yesterday that talks on the Middle East should resume immediately after Israel completes its Gaza withdrawal. He also expressed hope that a Palestinian state would be established by next year.

''We live in hope," Abbas said in an interview. ''And we hope that a Palestinian state can be achieved next year, God willing. What is important is to have the state."

Abbas also pledged to bring diverse militias from the governing Fatah movement under central control within three weeks.

He said the United States has assured him that peace negotiations with Israel can resume as soon as Israel completes its withdrawal from Gaza, which is expected by Sept. 15.

Israel has evacuated 9,000 Jewish settlers from Gaza and from four isolated West Bank enclaves.

A US Embassy spokesman, Stewart Tuttle, said Washington sees the Israeli withdrawal ''as an opportunity to re-energize the road map," referring to the US plan, which has gotten backing from other nations, that calls for the creation of a Palestinian state.

But Abbas said he had no information on a specific timetable for the creation of that state.

Abbas said he has high hopes for the economy. ''I am very optimistic that the next step is to develop the economy in the West Bank and Gaza," he said. ''Palestinian investors are coming here to build projects. If we succeed in this, it means we are creating a very important reality, which is pulling the people out of poverty."

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