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Saudi Arabia Dismisses Israeli Proposal for Conference

By VOA News

Saudi Arabia has dismissed Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's invitation to Arab leaders to attend a Middle East peace conference.

The Saudi Cabinet Monday said Israel first must end what it called constant violations and inhuman aggression against the Palestinian people.

In Paris, visiting Palestinian Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr said Mr. Olmert's proposal skips over necessary steps in the peace process.

But in Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that interaction between Israel and potential Arab partners would be positive.

On Sunday, Mr. Olmert invited all Arab leaders to a peace conference and called Saudi King Abdullah a "very important leader."

Last week, the Arab League re-launched a 2002 plan calling for normal relations with Israel in return for Israel's withdrawal to its 1967 borders.

Mr. Olmert welcomed the decision, but said Israel does not accept all parts of the plan.

The plan calls for the right of return of Palestinian refugees to their homes inside Israel.

Mr. Olmert said the plan, with some changes, could be a basis for dialogue.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.

France Says Europe Should Renew Aid to Palestinians

By Anita Elash, VOA, Paris

Palestinian Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr says he expects the international community to restore aid to the Palestinians, now that there is a new unity government. The Palestinian official made the comment in Paris during talks with his French counterpart, who expressed agreement. Anita Elash in Paris has this report for VOA.

This is Ziad Abu Amr's first visit to a European capital since the Palestinians formed a unity government last month. He is looking for support from European leaders, and hopes to convince them to lift a Western embargo on direct aid to the Palestinians. By coming here, he has chosen a receptive audience. France has been more supportive of the Palestinians than other European countries, which have been divided on how to deal with the Palestinians, since the Hamas party was voted into power last year.

The new unity government includes members from both Hamas and Fatah, as well as several independents. The United States considers Hamas a terrorist organization.

Abu Amr told a French newspaper he believes Hamas is ready to change And he told Voice of America that Hamas is committed to supporting a renewed peace process.

"Hamas as part of the government is bound by the program of the government, which talks about negotiations and peace, which talks about a two-state solution, which is committed to a program that is now consistent with the demands of the international community," said Ziad Abu Amr.

He did not say whether Hamas was ready to recognize Israel and denounce violence, two key demands of the Western community.

After meeting with Abu Amr, French foreign minister Philippe Doust-Blazy said western leaders should progressively restore aid, provided the Palestinians live up to international expectations.

But he said the new government must make some additional gestures to win Western confidence. He said that releasing an Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas last summer could help restore aid.

... Payvand News - 4/3/07 ... --

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