GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) – French presidential candidate Segolene Royal paid homage Sunday to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for his attempts to form a more moderate national unity government, although talks have broken down.
The Socialist former family minister has been touring the Middle East to prove to voters at home that she is credible in international affairs. The culmination of her trip came Sunday, with talks with Abbas in Gaza City and a meeting scheduled later with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Tel Aviv.
Abbas, who had announced Thursday that talks to form a unity government with the radical Islamic group Hamas had failed, expressed hope Sunday for restarting them. The talks were aimed at ending a crippling foreign aid boycott against the Hamas-led government. “The efforts at present have stopped, but we must preserve hope,” Abbas said. He added: “The question is not a disagreement on positions or posts, but on principle. We want a government that is able to lift the siege on the Palestinian people.”
Royal said a unity government “would be a substantial process toward recognizing the principles of the Quartet,” the four international players trying to promote Middle East peace, the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia.
Royal’s trip began Thursday in Lebanon. After a stopover in Jordan on Saturday night, she arrived in Gaza a week after a fragile truce ending five months of violence took effect on the Gaza-Israel border. She has not set up any meetings with Hamas representatives, her entourage said, though she had not ruled out that possibility.
Royal has supported resumed aid to the Palestinians, and urged a greater European role in Middle East peacemaking.
Later she was to see Olmert as well as Foreign Minister Tzipi Lipni in Tel Aviv.
Tensions have risen between France and Israel in recent weeks over Israeli flyovers in southern Lebanon. French peacekeeping troops were seconds away from firing on Israeli warplanes in one incident in October.
The Middle East tour is seen as a risky undertaking for the 53-year-old former environment and family minister, who surprised many even in her own party by her ascension in the polls over the past year. She and conservative Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy are the main contenders in the race for next spring’s elections.
Royal appeals to voters with her pledges to listen to their needs, and by focusing on day-to-day issues including education. But the lawmaker, who also governs the western Poitou-Charentes region, has offered no bold ideas for France’s limp economy, and she appeared hesitant during a debate with Socialist rivals on international affairs.