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Last Updated: Monday, 16 July 2007, 19:26 GMT 20:26 UK
Bush urges Mid-East peace talks
US President George W Bush
President Bush wants to strengthen the position of Mr Abbas
US President George W Bush has called for an international meeting to discuss efforts to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

The proposed meeting would take place later this year and involve the US, Israel and some of its Arab neighbours.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will chair the talks.

Speaking at the White House, Mr Bush also announced a $190m (95m) aid package for President Mahmoud Abbas's emergency Palestinian government.

Mr Abbas's Fatah faction recently lost control of the Gaza Strip by force to the Islamic militant group Hamas.

Hamas denounced President Bush's proposed peace conference.

'Moment of choice'

President Bush said the Middle East Quartet - which consists of the US, Russia, the EU and the UN - would help strengthen the government of Mr Abbas to promote peace.

"We can help them prove to the world, the region and Israel that a Palestinian state would be a partner, not a danger.

Israeli PM Ehud Olmert (r) and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Jerusalem - 16/07/2007
Israeli and Palestinian leaders are holding regular bilateral talks
"We can help them make clear to all Palestinians that rejecting violence is the surest path to security and a better life," he said.

Mr Bush urged Israel to continue releasing tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority, of which Mr Abbas is the leader.

He also called for a meeting of "donor" nations, including the Arab states of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, to consider more international aid.

President Bush said that now was "a moment of clarity and choice" for Palestinians.

He said Palestinians could follow the vision of Mr Abbas, and establish a state of their own - or choose the extremist vision of Hamas and "crush" the possibility of independence.

The BBC's Middle East analyst Roger Hardy says even those who have been urging a more forceful US role will harbour serious doubts about whether Mr Bush's timing is propitious.

Our correspondent says Mr Abbas - in many ways the lynchpin of the initiative - is already in a weak position.

The more he is embraced by Israel and the West, the more vulnerable he becomes to the charge he is acting in their interests rather than those of his own people.

Mr Abbas has repeatedly said he wants to resume peace talks with Israel.

Israeli officials have said they are prepared to discuss confidence-building measures, but not the key issues disputed by the two sides.

Earlier on Monday, Israel said it would release 250 Palestinian prisoners as part of a goodwill gesture to bolster Mr Abbas's government.

Extract from Mr Bush's statement on the Middle East

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