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Olmert's office is trying to work out meeting with Abbas

JERUSALEM (AP) - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office is trying to work out a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meant to help advance peace efforts, a spokeswoman said Sunday.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was visiting the region Sunday, is involved in trying to work out a meeting between the two leaders, Olmert's spokeswoman, Miri Eisin, said. While Olmert has said he has no preconditions for such a meeting, the Palestinians have conditioned a meeting on the release of some of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners Israel holds, Eisin said.

The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said Abbas had "no conditions" for the meeting. "President Abbas stands fully ready to meet with Mr. Olmert. If the Israelis wish, we are ready to begin the preparations for this meeting immediately," Erekat said. Meanwhile, Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh said contacts were underway to set up a meeting.

Abbas has expressed a willingness to meet, saying Friday he would want such talks to be "beneficial and fruitful." Palestinian officials have said Abbas expects such a meeting to include an announcement that Israel will release Palestinian prisoners.

Olmert said Saturday after meeting with Blair that he would be willing to meet Abbas and work with him to push forward peace efforts. Israel's first priority in such talks is winning the release of an Israeli soldier captured by Palestinian militants in an attack on army base near Gaza on June 25, Olmert said.

The two leaders last met in June, but it was a breakfast meeting attended by other Mideast leaders, and no progress came out of the talks. Blair was slated to meet with Abbas later Sunday in the West Bank city of Ramallah.


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