Find a just solution to Mideast conflict, Abdullah tells Mitchell


King Abdullah and Mitchell discussed “new developments in the Palestinian issue and the Middle East peace process and stressed the importance of intensifying global efforts to reach a just and comprehensive solution,” the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said.

Saudi Arabia insisted that any Middle East solution should ensure the establishment of an independent state for the Palestinians where they can live, the agency said. Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal attended the talks at the king’s palace in Riyadh.

Mitchell arrived in the Saudi capital on Saturday on the last leg of a Middle East tour aimed at reviving peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel. The move comes a week after Barack Obama took charge as the new US president and in the wake of Israel’s deadly three-week assault on the Gaza Strip.

Mitchell, who helped broker peace in Northern Ireland in 1998, earlier visited Egypt, Jordan and Israel and held talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas before arriving in Riyadh.

King Abdullah, who is the main architect of the Arab peace initiative, held talks with Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa before meeting Mitchell. During the meeting Abdullah and Moussa discussed “the Arab League’s efforts to tackle Arab issues, most importantly the Palestinian issue,” the SPA said.

The king’s talks with Mitchell and Moussa came as Olmert threatened “harsh and disproportionate” retaliation after Palestinians fired several rockets and mortar shells into southern Israel from Gaza yesterday.

A late afternoon mortar barrage on the village of Nahal Oz, next to the Gaza border fence, wounded three — two soldiers and a civilian, Israeli military and rescue services said. Earlier, a rocket landed near a kindergarten in a community near Gaza, police said.

Olmert addressed his Cabinet before the barrage on Nahal Oz. The government’s position, he said, is that “if there is shooting at residents of the south, there will be an Israeli response that will be harsh and disproportionate by its nature.” Hamas spokesman Taher Nunu said Olmert’s threat was an attempt by Israel to “find false pretexts to increase its aggression against the people” of Gaza.

Abbas lashed out at Hamas as officials from Palestinian groups gathered in Cairo yesterday amid hopes of bolstering the cease-fire in Gaza. At a press conference, Abbas accused Hamas of putting the lives and aspirations of Palestinians at risk. “They … have taken risks with the blood of Palestinians, with their fate, and dreams and aspirations for an independent Palestinian state,” he charged.

He also accused Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since routing Fatah forces loyal to Abbas in 2007, of trying to destroy the Palestine Liberation Organization and said he rejected dialogue with any group that did not recognize the PLO.

Khaled Meshaal, who heads Hamas’ politburo from exile in Damascus, said earlier in the week that the PLO had become obsolete and called for “a new, national authority.” Hamas is not a member of the Palestinian umbrella group, which Egypt founded in 1964 and which Fatah took over in 1968.

“Today they emerge upon us with a destructive project, which we have heard before … and which has gone to the rubbish bin of history,” said Abbas. Palestinian officials were gathering in Cairo for talks starting today to bolster the cease-fire. Egypt has been mediating a truce between Hamas and Israel after they both announced cease-fires on Jan. 18, ending a 22-day war that killed more than 1,330 Palestinians.

Abbas is to meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak today and a Hamas delegation from Damascus is set to join talks.

On a visit to Tehran, Meshaal yesterday ruled out any “permanent cease-fire” until Israel ends its crippling blockade of the Gaza Strip.

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