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Palestinian President Visits Saudi King - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, (AP) -Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah held an unannounced meeting Sunday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the recent escalation in Israeli-Palestinian tensions, a Palestinian official said.

The meeting in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, came a day after the Palestinian leader from the moderate Fatah movement met with Khaled Mashaal, the exiled political leader of the militant group Hamas, in Cairo.

Their talks were the first since their blocs formed a coalition government in March under Saudi Arabian mediation.

During Sunday’s meeting, Abbas updated the Saudi king on the deteriorating security situation in the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian official in Riyadh said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Saudi Arabia has no formal relations with Israel but has pushed recently for a peace deal between the Jewish state and the Arab world.

The Palestinian official said the two Arab leaders discussed “how to re-establish security (in Gaza) and reactivate the cease-fire.”

Hamas fired a barrage of homemade rockets at Israel last week, their first major attack since a cease-fire agreement was reached in November. Then on Saturday, Israeli forces killed three Hamas militants planting a bomb on the Gaza-Israeli border.

Meanwhile, Mashaal demanded in an interview published Monday that Israel release top Palestinian leaders in return for a captured soldier and threatened violence if an international aid embargo isn’t lifted.

Mashaal told the Palestinian newspaper Al-Ayam that Hamas intended to demand prominent Palestinian leaders, including Marwan Barghouti, a popular leader of the rival Fatah, in exchange for the soldier.

Israel has said it will not release Barghouti, who is serving five consecutive life terms for his role in shooting attacks that killed four Israelis and a Greek monk.

A list of Palestinian prisoners the group wants freed in the first stage was handed over to Israel by Egyptian mediators, but the group has not received a response, Mashaal said. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said in public that the list is not acceptable.

Though the soldier’s captors are not known to have offered evidence that he is alive and have prevented Red Cross representatives from meeting him, Mashaal told the paper that the captive soldier was being treated humanely.

In the interview, Mashaal also said Palestinians would renew violence if the international community continues its boycott of the Palestinian unity government.

“We are doing the impossible to end the embargo on our people … If, God forbid, it continues … the results will be serious,” Mashaal said.

“The explosion will be in the face of the Zionist enemy,” he said.

The coalition replaced a Hamas-led government formed after the Islamist group won a national election in 2006. The international community cut off aid to the Palestinians after that government refused demands to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept previous signed peace agreements.

Though the government now includes the more moderate Fatah, it has not explicitly accepted any of those conditions, and most Western nations are maintaining the aid boycott to the government, while funding some aid projects directly.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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