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Page last updated at 18:56 GMT, Sunday, 18 May 2008 19:56 UK

Bush's 'Israel bias' angers Abbas

George W Bush (left) with Mahmoud Abbas in Sharm el-Sheikh on 17 May
Mr Abbas said he made his complaint to President Bush's face

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has accused US President George W Bush of bias towards Israel, following a speech to the Israeli parliament last week.

"What the president said at the Knesset made us angry, and to be honest, we don't accept it," Mr Abbas said.

Mr Bush lavished praise on Israel and barely mentioned the Palestinians in his speech, which marked the 60th anniversary of Israel's foundation.

In a speech in Egypt on Sunday, Mr Bush said the Arab world needed to reform.

He met several Arab and Muslim-nation leaders in Egypt over the weekend, and reiterated his commitment to a lasting Middle East peace deal by the end of his presidency in January.

We have asked him to maintain a balanced position

Mahmoud Abbas, about George Bush

Mr Bush had dinner with Mr Abbas on Saturday night. In their brief comments to the media ahead of the meal, there was no hint from Mr Abbas that he was angered by Mr Bush's comments.

Indeed, Mr Abbas defended Mr Bush against sceptics who doubt a peace deal can be reached.

But on Sunday the Palestinian Authority president revealed that he had demanded an explanation from Mr Bush for his comments in Israel.

"We had many things to say about it, and we told him this when we met him yesterday, because we speak with him openly, honestly and transparently. We have asked him to maintain a balanced position," Mr Abbas said.

Mr Bush had told Israeli politicians that the US was their closest ally, and that their country was a "homeland for the chosen people".

Few Palestinians regard President Bush as an honest broker, and his latest visit to the region seems to have reinforced that view, says the BBC's Aleem Maqbool in Ramallah in the West Bank.

Call for freedom

In Egypt, Mr Bush urged Arab leaders to work hard to advance democracy and civil liberties, and to isolate sponsors of terrorism.

He told the World Economic Forum in Sharm el-Sheikh that states needed to diversify their economies, invest in people and extend the reach of freedom.

"This region is home to energetic people, a powerful spirit of enterprise, and tremendous resources," he said.

True democracy requires competitive elections in which opposition candidates are allowed to campaign without fear or intimidation
US President George Bush

"It is capable of a very bright future, a future in which the Middle East is a place of innovation and discovery, driven by free men and women."

Mr Bush said politics in the region too often "consisted of one leader in power and the opposition in jail" and that the time had come for nations to "abandon these practices, and treat their people with the dignity and respect they deserve".

The comment could have been seen as criticism of a number of Arab countries, including Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak has been in power for 27 years.

Mr Bush warned that "the light of liberty" was at risk from "spoilers such as the regimes in Iran and Syria", and called on the region to reject their policies, and help prevent Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.

"To allow the world's leading sponsor of terror to gain the world's deadliest weapon would be an unforgivable betrayal of future generations," he said.

Mr Bush also said Iran and Syria were fomenting sectarian conflict in Lebanon, where more than 60 people have been killed in recent days in clashes between fighters loyal to the pro-Western government and opposition supporters, led by the Shia Hezbollah movement.




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