JERUSALEM (AP) – Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas held unexpected talks Wednesday in Tunisia, the highest-level Israeli-Palestinian meeting since June.
The meeting lasted for about 30 minutes and was also attended by the president of Mauritania, said Shalom aide Lior Ben-Dor. The Abbas-Shalom meeting came a day after Israelis and Palestinians, with a strong push from the U.S., reached an elusive agreement on Gaza border crossings, a step forward after months of deadlock.
The Abbas-Shalom meeting was the highest-level encounter between Israelis and Palestinians since Abbas met Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in June. Abbas and Shalom are in Tunisia to attend a U.N. summit on narrowing the digital divide between rich and poor.
Abbas said he was pleased with the Gaza border agreement and hoped it would lead to talks on a final peace deal, Ben-Dor said. Palestinian officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Israel”s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in September has provided the Palestinians with an opportunity to prove their ability to run a state, Ben-Dor quoted Shalom as saying.
Shalom also told Abbas that if the Palestinians can impose law and order in Gaza, it would encourage Israel to withdraw from additional areas of the West Bank, according to the aide.
Abbas and the Mauritanian leader, Police Col. Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, praised Shalom”s efforts to improve Israel”s ties with the Arab and Muslim world, Ben-Dor said.
Vall is the new leader of Mauritania after heading a coup in August. The military junta is to cede power to a democratically elected government in March 2007.