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Abbas to Rice: Stop settlement expansion

Mahmoud Abbas asked White House officials for their support in pressuring Israel to stop settlement expansion.

In a precursor to Thursday’s scheduled meeting with President Bush, the president of the Palestinian Authority met Wednesday with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and asked for the United States to exert more pressure on Israel to stop the expansion of settlements in the West Bank, The Associated Press reported.

Settlement expansion, which the Washington Post reported Thursday is down 33 percent since 2003, is a major roadblock to peace, Abbas reportedly told Rice.

He repeated that sentiment later Wednesday in a meeting with Arab American leaders.

“I am telling you frankly that the most important obstacle to the peace process and the negotiations is the continuation of the settlement activities,” Abbas said in a speech at the Arab-American Institute’s annual dinner in Washington. “Therefore, I am calling on the Israeli government to stop all settlement activities so we can hold proper meetings to reach a solution on the core issues.”

This will require “American intervention,” Abbas’ spokesman told reporters.

Also at the dinner, Abbas announced that he and Bush would meet next month at a summit in Sharm el-Sheik in Egypt. It is unclear whether Israel will attend. Bush will be in the region to help celebrate the 60th anniversary of Israel’s founding.

Abbas said efforts by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to reconcile his Fatah party with Hamas, the terrorist group that rules the Gaza Strip, had failed because of Hamas’ refusal to recognize a two-state solution to the conflict.

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