Olmert, Abbas to Meet Next Week, Violence Likely to Dominate Agenda

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will meet next week, and efforts to halt the latest convulsion of Israeli-Palestinian violence are sure to be on the agenda.

Abbas said the meeting would take place on June 7, but did not say where, though there has been talk it would be held in the West Bank town of Jericho.

Olmert's office said the date and place had not been set. The two men will discuss security issues, his office said, without elaborating.

Abbas and Olmert had promised U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in March to meet every two weeks to try to prod ahead long-stalled peace talks. But they have since met only once, on April 15. In the interim, a Nov. 26 truce in Gaza has collapsed under a barrage of Hamas rocket fire and Israeli retaliation.

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In related news Tuesday, Israeli troops killed two militants from the ruling Hamas group in a shootout a mile inside Gaza. A day earlier, Israeli leaders authorized larger numbers of ground forces to enter the volatile territory on pinpoint missions against Hamas rocket squads.

And in the West Bank city of Nablus, Israeli troops arrested Palestinian legislator Jamal Tirawi of Fatah, who has close ties to the movement's violent offshoot, and was wanted for involvement in attacks on Israel.

In the past year, Israel has arrested dozens of Hamas lawmakers, but Tirawi was the first to be detained from Abbas' Fatah movement, which shares power with Hamas.

Hamas has been the main force behind the more than 250 rockets that have been fired at southern Israel from Gaza, killing two civilians and sending thousands fleeing to safer ground. Israeli aircraft have struck at militant targets dozens of times in an effort to curb the rocket fire, killing some 50 Palestinians, most of them radicals.

Abbas is trying to work out a truce agreement with the various Palestinian factions, and told a news conference with EU parliament chief Hans-Gert Pottering on Tuesday that he would take it to Israel once he wrested the militants' approval.

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"All problems and difficulties can find a solution through negotiations," he said. "We are ready for these negotiations, and we are ready for a truce between us and the Israelis. We are looking for a comprehensive solution with the Israelis."

Under his plan, Gaza militants would halt rocket fire for a month to allow for negotiations on a more comprehensive cease-fire that would include the West Bank.

On Monday, Abbas appealed to militant groups to take the first step in forging a new cease-fire with Israel, saying the alternative would be the collapse of the Palestinian coalition government.

"The truce project means all acts by all parties stop, the Palestinians first and the Israelis, so we can move after to the West Bank," Abbas told Associated Press Television News. "Israel ... can do what it wants, whenever it wants, but we say we should do our duties and put the ball in the Israeli court."

The militants have said there could be no truce if Israel kept up its attacks and refused to extend any Gaza cease-fire to the West Bank, site of frequent Israeli sweeps against militants. Israel has been cool to the idea of applying the truce to West Bank.

Israel's predawn foray Tuesday into southern Gaza marked the second time in the latest round of fighting that Israeli forces entered the area, which Israel evacuated in September 2005.

Details of the raid were murky. Witnesses said forces searched three houses and arrested two brothers with ties to Hamas. At some point, a gunbattle erupted, and two militants were killed.

Although Israel's 2-week-old military campaign in Gaza against Hamas has been widened, a large-scale ground operation is not imminent, military officials have said.