Olmert optimistic on Abbas meeting

Plans afoot to set up a joint panel to negotiate Israeli-Palestinian prisoner swap.

    Blair, right, met with Olmert on Monday in Jerusalem as part of his Middle East tour

    No Barghouti deal


    Olmert said a new committee will be formed "in the coming days" to try to reach a deal on a prisoner release and said his aides meet with Abbas' representatives "often" to discuss a "wide range of subjects".


    He said he hoped a summit would take place "very soon" but offered no concrete sign of movement on the long-awaited meeting.


    Earlier on Monday, Abbas also said he was eagerly awaiting a meeting with the Israeli prime minister.


    Olmert was asked whether Israel would be prepared to release Marwan Barghouti, a Fatah leader serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison, in order to help strengthen the embattled Abbas.

    He said Barghouti's release "was not on the agenda" at present and

     also ruled out holding any discussions with Syria.


    Palestinian funds


    Olmert also said Israel would be prepared to release some of the hundreds of millions of dollars it holds in seized Palestinian tax money for humanitarian purposes.


    However, he ruled out a wider transfer of funds, fearing the money would make its way to Palestinian fighters.


    Israel halted the monthly transfers after the Hamas was elected to power last January.


    Israel considers Hamas, which is sworn to Israel's destruction, a terrorist group.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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