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Arab states form united front to win Rice's support on talks

Seek to relaunch peace process

CAIRO -- Eight US-allied Arab countries are banding together to meet with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on her trip here, in hopes of reviving the deadlocked Arab-Israeli peace process and making headway on other regional issues.

During their meeting today with Rice, the ministers of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council and Egypt and Jordan are expected to coordinate efforts to buttress the stature of the moderate Palestinian leader and stem Iran's growing influence.

Rice's visit comes as Arab countries have in recent weeks halted dealings with the Palestinian militant group Hamas. They want it to join a unity government that supports a 2002 Arab League plan that would offer peace to Israel in exchange for land and they've even started funneling aid through Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, diplomats say.

The goal of Rice's tour is to promote democracy and discuss threats to stability, such as Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah, Rice's spokesman says. But the Arab ministers' priority is relaunching peace talks.

On Sunday, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah II called for Palestinian-Israeli talks to be resumed. Their meeting came as the worst internal Palestinian violence since Hamas took power in March shook the Gaza Strip.

Egypt, a longtime mediator among Palestinian factions and between Israel and the Palestinians, appears to be losing patience with Hamas.

Last week, Egypt's chief of intelligence, Omar Suleiman, demanded the immediate release of Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit. Militants close to Hamas captured the soldier in June, triggering Israeli military retaliation. Suleiman has been working on a prisoner swap.

Suleiman also told Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal that the militant group should cooperate fully with Abbas to form a unity government, a step that has been stalled by Hamas' refusal to join a Cabinet that recognizes Israel.

Meanwhile, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit accused Hamas of ``reneging on what the Palestinians had already accepted," referring to the Palestinian-Israeli peace pacts that created the Palestinian Authority. ``Those Palestinians who resist the negotiations to secure what is left of their interests will be sorry," he was quoted as saying by the Ashraq Al Awsat newspaper.

Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and some Gulf states expressed similar concerns.

On Saturday, Arab media reported that the intelligence chiefs of Egypt, Jordan, and some Gulf nations met last week in Aqaba, Jordan, with their Israeli counterpart. Israeli media said the meeting was held ``to discuss the confrontation with the extreme Middle Eastern states and how to handle the threat of terror."

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