Atul Aneja

DUBAI: Egypt has invited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for a summit at the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh.

An invitation for participation has also been extended to King Abdullah II of Jordan. Both Egypt and Jordan have diplomatic ties with Israel and are close allies of the United States. The call on Monday follows Mr. Olmert visit to Washington. Analysts point out that the four-way summit is an attempt to pull Fatah, which Mr. Abbas heads, into the western camp.

The talks in Egypt are expected to focus on the release of Palestinian funds, collected in taxes, but frozen by Israel after Hamas triumphed in Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2005. The Israeli side could also lift some of the checkpoints that it has raised in occupied West Bank. Relations between Fatah and its rival Hamas have further deteriorated after Mr. Abbas refused talks with the militant group. In a televised address to the members of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), Mr. Abbas has asserted that there would be “no dialogue with putschists, murderers and terrorists.”

The Hamas has dismissed the speech as a pack of lies. Mr. Abbas acerbic remarks have triggered street demonstrations in Gaza, where effigies of the Palestinian President were burned on Thursday.

Rift hardens

The rift between Hamas and Fatah has hardened after Hamas overran the entire Gaza strip after engaging Fatah fighters in deadly gun battles for several days. Nearly 110 persons died in the factional violence.

While Hamas has declared its intent to hold talks, it has nevertheless insisted that it would not engage with senior Fatah functionaries, including former Gaza strongman Mohammad Dahlan.

Notwithstanding tensions between Hamas and Fatah, there is calm in the streets of Gaza. Hamas activists have warned traders not to raise prices of essential commodities. However, a humanitarian crisis is looming over the Gaza coastal strip as basic supplies are expected to run out in the next few weeks.