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Frustrated Abbas calls off conference

Mideast states look to West, UN to break impasse

A meeting today between Mahmoud Abbas (left ) and Ehud Olmert was canceled. They will be invited to a June 25 conference. A meeting today between Mahmoud Abbas (left ) and Ehud Olmert was canceled. They will be invited to a June 25 conference. (FILE/PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY VIA AP/2006)

JERUSALEM -- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday canceled a planned summit meeting this week with Ehud Olmert, saying the Israeli leader has failed to accept any of his suggestions for reducing tensions, such as renewing a cease-fire and releasing frozen tax revenue .

But the Palestinian foreign minister said Abbas and Olmert are likely to meet later this month in Egypt under the auspices of the "Quartet" of Mideast peacemakers. The minister, Ziad Abu Amr, said the Palestinians want the Quartet -- the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia -- to try to break the deadlock.

Olmert and Abbas had been expected to meet today in the West Bank town of Jericho in what would have been their first talks on Palestinian territory.

David Baker, an official in Olmert's office, said the meeting was postponed at the request of the Palestinians. "Prime Minister Olmert will be ready to meet with Abu Mazen at any time," he said, referring to Abbas.

The Palestinians said they called off the meeting because Olmert has rejected their proposals. Abbas wants Israel to release hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue, along with restoring a cease-fire in Gaza and expanding it to the West Bank, and restarting formal peace talks.

"Israel is not responding positively to these demands, so the president decided not to go to this meeting," Abu Amr said in a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

But shortly after, he said Olmert and Abbas will be invited to Cairo by the Quartet on June 25. Representatives of the 22-member Arab League, which is pushing a plan for comprehensive peace with Israel, also will attend, he said.

Abu Amr said the Cairo talks signal stepped-up international involvement in breaking years of impasse between the Israelis and Palestinians.

"It will make the Quartet see by itself who is responsible for hindering any of the issues being discussed," he said.

Under prodding from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Olmert and Abbas agreed in March to meet every two weeks to try to move beyond day-to-day issues and outline a permanent peace deal.

But the men have met only once since then, and any chances of reviving peace talks have been clouded by the resumption of fighting in Gaza.

A five-month truce collapsed last month when Hamas militants began firing barrages of crude rockets into southern Israel.

More than 60 Palestinians, most of them militants, and two Israeli civilians, have been killed.

Israeli aircraft struck a group of militants Wednesday in northern Gaza, killing one, Palestinian officials said. The Israeli Army said the militants were planting a bomb.

In the West Bank, a 67-year-old Palestinian man was killed and seven were injured in an Israeli arrest raid, police said. The army said troops who entered the man's house were attacked with a gas canister and other household objects, and opened fire when one of the Palestinians grabbed a soldier's rifle.

The renewed violence had been expected to top the agenda of Olmert's meeting with Abbas.

Abbas has proposed a truce that would commit Gaza militants to halt their rocket fire for a month before expanding the cease-fire to the West Bank.

Hamas, which shares power with Abbas' Fatah, and other militant groups have said a truce is out of the question as long as Israel sustains its attacks and refuses to include the West Bank.

Palestinian officials said another key sticking point in the summit preparations was Israel's refusal to release hundreds of millions of dollars in tax money it collects on behalf of the Palestinians.

Israel froze the payments last year after Hamas was elected to power, demanding the militant group accept international calls to renounce violence and recognize the Jewish state. Hamas rejects the conditions.