Abbas, Olmert to meet amid fresh fighting

RAMALLAH, WEST BANK // A Palestinian official says the Palestinian president will meet with the outgoing Israeli prime minister on Monday and raise his concern about renewed Gaza fighting. The announcement came as militants in Gaza early today fired a rocket against Israel, the army said, while Palestinian medics say two Palestinians have been killed in the northern Gaza Strip by an Israeli air strike, although the Israeli army says it did not fire at them. The militant group Popular Resistance Committees says one of the dead was a member. The identity of the other man has not been confirmed. The conflicting reports highlight growing tensions between Israel and Palestinians as a five-month Gaza truce is unravelling. The cease-fire began to deteriorate last week. The fighting has killed 12 Gaza militants. Some 140 rockets, missiles and mortars have been fired from Gaza at Israel. The negotiator Saeb Erekat said today that the president Mahmoud Abbas will also bring up continued Israeli settlement expansion in his talks with the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The two leaders have met regularly for the past year as part of US-backed peace talks. However, all sides have acknowledged that they will miss the end-of-year target for a peace deal. Mr Erekat says the two leaders will continue meeting to talk about bilateral concerns. Mr Olmert has three months left in office. Today's fresh fighting came amid growing warnings of a looming humanitarian crisis in the blockaded Hamas-ruled territory. The rocket, which was fired by Palestinian militants in northern Gaza Strip, caused no damage nor casualties, an army spokeswoman said. The rocket fire followed 11 days of tit-for-tat skirmishes that have rocked the fragile five-month-old truce prompted Israel on Nov 5 to seal off its crossings with Gaza, the territory's sole gateway for vital goods. The Israeli government yesterday ordered that the crossings remain closed after militants fired heavy rockets against the city of Ashqelon. A range of international organisations and rights movements have urged Israel to ease its punishing blockade on Gaza and to allow food convoys and to resume fuel supplies to the impoverished territory. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon "is deeply concerned at the deterioration of the humanitarian and security situation in Gaza and southern Israel. He calls on all parties to uphold international humanitarian and human rights law," a UN statement said. Israel imposed a blockade of Gaza after the Islamist Hamas movement seized control of the territory in June 2007.


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