Mubarak briefed by Abbas on outcome of recent international tour

Abbas says ready to meet Meshaal after reconciliation paper is signed, Iran standing against Palestinian reconciliation

Alleged secret Israeli talks with Palestinians

Netanyahu says Israel open for talks with Syria as Assad warns Israel

U.S. asks Israel to ease siege on Gaza prior to Goldstone report discussions

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met Saturday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss developments in the efforts aimed at reviving the Middle East peace process. Both leaders also discussed the Palestinian reconciliation process between the West Bank's Fatah, and Hamas, the Islamist group in charge of the Gaza Strip, Egypt's Radio and TV website reported.

After the meeting, Abbas told reporters that both the negotiations with Israel and inter-Palestinian reconciliation are moving side by side.

"We have to build the state, the economy and security, (we have the) reconciliation, and the US proposals to renew negotiations with Israel. There is no priority to one issue over the other," He said.

Palestinian-Israeli peace talks collapsed last year after the Israeli offensive against the Gaza Strip.

Abbas also stressed that reconciliation talks started in Egypt and will remain in Egypt. "Signing a final document on this score will also be undertaken in Egypt" he added.

Egypt has been brokering talks between Hamas and Fatah since last year.

Fatah signed an Egyptian-brokered agreement last October, but Hamas balked at the deal, saying it wanted to clarify a few points first.

Abbas said Saturday Egypt will continue to be the sole mediator in the dispute between rival factions Fatah and Hamas.

Speaking in Cairo, Abbas said Egypt's role in settling the dispute will be central, the Palestinian news agency Ma'an reported.

Abbas reportedly said that the final signing ceremony for an Egyptian-sponsored reconciliation document will be in Egypt, and that Cairo would also follow up on its implementation.

"This is the Palestinian Authority and Fatah's stance," Ma'an quoted Abbas as saying.

Abbas also said he and other Palestinian leaders had discussed a proposal broached by U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, in which Mitchell offered to shuttle between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in "proximity talks" to restart the Mideast peace process.

"A meeting was held between Palestinian, Jordanian and Egyptian officials to discuss the issue, and we await the U.S. response to a number of questions," Abbas reportedly said.

"When we receive the answers, we will discuss them with Arab countries, and announce our stance."

Abbas said that his secular Fatah movement would meet its Islamist rival Hamas only after the hard-line faction signs an Egypt-sponsored reconciliation deal.

"When Hamas signs the reconciliation, there will immediately be a meeting with (Hamas leader) Khaled Meshaal, between Fatah and Hamas, and between all the factions to apply what is contained in the Egyptian document," Abbas told reporters in Cairo.

"There is nothing to add or amend to the Egyptian document," he said, referring to modifications requested by Hamas.

Egypt's efforts to reunite the rival factions have so far failed, and Cairo has twice postponed a planned signing of the accord because of the deep divisions between Hamas and Fatah.

Hamas routed Fatah from the Gaza Strip in 2007 after deadly fighting, a year after winning Palestinian legislative elections. Tensions with Egypt soared after Hamas refused to sign the deal, and were exacerbated by Egypt's construction of an underground barrier on its border with Gaza.

But in an interview with Egyptian editors, Abbas said he supported the building of the controversial barrier, which seeks to stem smuggling through a network of underground tunnels linking Egypt to Gaza.

"The steel wall does not seek to starve the Palestinian people... the tunnels are used to smuggle whisky, drugs and Mercedes cars," Abbas said in the interview published in the daily Al-Ahram.

"As for the humanitarian goods, thousands of tons enter (Gaza) through the border points," Abbas said.

The tunnels are mainly used for food, fuel and household appliances, Hamas also uses them to import weapons into the territory and send fighters abroad for training.

Meanwhile, Palestinians are weighing indirect peace talks with Israel to be mediated by the United States, Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said on Monday, adding that they should focus on border issues.

Echoing comments by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas over the weekend, Malki also said he needed more information from Washington, along with support from Arab states, before making a commitment to the U.S. offer on the peace talks.

An Israeli cabinet minister said last week that Israel and the Palestinians would begin "proximity talks", with a U.S. mediator shuttling between negotiating teams, to restart negotiations that broke down at the start of a war in Gaza in December 2008.

"This proximity talks should focus on one issue only. That issue is borders," Malki told a news conference, adding that this is because issues of water, security and concerns on Jerusalem would all be covered by such discussions.

Malki, visiting Tokyo with Abbas, added that the timeframe for the proximity talks should be limited to a maximum of three to four months.

Abbas has said he will only return to peace negotiations if Israel completely stops settlement-building in the occupied West Bank. He has rejected a limited, 10-month construction freeze ordered by Israel in November as insufficient.

Israel has said it will continue to build homes for Jews in and around East Jerusalem, territory it captured in a 1967 war and annexed as part of its capital in a move not recognised internationally.

Palestinians want the city as the capital of a future state.

Malki said he needed to hear more about what Washington has in mind for terms of reference for the proximity talks.

"And we need to know what if these talks fail -- what will be the position of Americans and what will they do?" Malki added.

If answers from the U.S. Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, to those questions were acceptable, Palestinians would discuss the idea with Arab leaders and, if they supported it, the Palestinian response to the offer would be positive, he said.

But he added: "We cannot really say in advance we are committed without really getting assurances that this process will be meaningful and lead to something tangible."

Malki said he saw no difference so far between the proposed proximity talks and the shuttle diplomacy employed by Mitchell, who has made more than a dozen visits to the region to try to revive the long-stalled peace process.

He added that the idea of proximity talks was Washington's way to save its face by trying to show that it was not giving up.

U.S. President Barack Obama disappointed Abbas last year when he softened his demand for a settlement building freeze, instead calling on Israel to exercise restraint in construction in the lands it captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

Furthermore, Israel's prime minister attempted to end a war of words with Syria on Sunday, saying his country is open to peace talks with its longtime enemy.

Israeli and Syrian officials have traded threats over the past week, raising concerns of an escalation between two countries that have officially been at war for more than 60 years.

Israel desires peace agreements with "all of its neighbors," Netanyahu told his weekly Cabinet meeting.

"We did it with Egypt and Jordan, and we want to achieve similar agreements with the Palestinians and the Syrians," he said. "I hope that we are on the brink of renewing negotiations with the Palestinians, and we are open to renewing the process with the Syrians as well."

Netanyahu's comments came after an ominous exchange between officials in the two countries.

Syrian President Bashar Assad accused Israel of avoiding peace and his foreign minister threatened that Israeli cities would come under attack in a future war. Israel's foreign minister responded that Syria would be defeated and Assad and his family would lose power in any future conflict.

It has been a quarter-century since Israel and Syria fought directly, but Syria backs anti-Israel forces like the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah and the Palestinian Islamic organization Hamas. Israel's sworn enemy Iran backs Hamas and Hezbollah.

The central point of disagreement between Israel and Syria is the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau that Israel captured in 1967 and later annexed. Syria has demanded a full withdrawal from the Golan as a condition for peace.

Netanyahu said Israel would not accept preconditions to negotiations, indicating he would not agree ahead of time to a Golan withdrawal. He also said any agreement would have to guarantee Israel's security.

Indirect talks between Syria and Israel's previous government ended unsuccessfully in late 2008.

The United States has suggested to Israel that easing the Gaza blockade would help counter the fallout from the Goldstone report on alleged war crimes during Operation Cast Lead a year ago.

Friday, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is expected to present a report to the General Assembly on the implementation of the report's recommendations by Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The U.S. message on the blockade was relayed last week when a Foreign Ministry delegation met in Washington with senior officials from the State Department and the White House.

Much of the meeting dealt with steps that Israel could take to help the United States and others block the Goldstone report and prevent it from reaching the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Heading the Israeli delegation was the Foreign Ministry's deputy director for international organizations, Eviatar Manor.

The delegation met with officials including the U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, Michael Posner, and President Barack Obama's adviser on human rights, Samantha Power.

The Americans were interested to hear whether Israel had decided on whether to set up a committee to investigate Operation Cast Lead. Power asked about Israeli public opinion on this issue.

Power did not hide her criticism of Israel's handling of the Goldstone report; she asked whether Israel's thinking on the issue was "strategic or tactical."

"Is the correct strategy fighting Goldstone on all fronts?" she asked.

A main message of the U.S. officials was that the humanitarian situation in Gaza was directly linked to the ability of Israel's critics to push the Goldstone report forward and the ability to block the report's consequences.

Posner, who had held talks on the Goldstone report in Jerusalem a month ago, stressed that the document has two angles: "one humanitarian, the other multilateral. Improving the humanitarian situation in Gaza may be an important component of the change in the attitude of the international community toward Israel and will be very helpful against the Goldstone report."

The Americans said they do not believe in the policy of preventing goods from reaching the Gaza population because of the political situation there. "We do not accept the current situation at the Gaza crossings," one of them said.

The Israeli government has still not decided whether to form a committee that will evaluate the events of Operation Cast Lead.

A decision is expected to be made before deliberations on the matter at the UN.

Sources at the Prime Minister's Bureau said that the plan is first to see how the deliberations at the UN proceed, and to gauge the reactions to the secretary general's report.

The forum of seven senior cabinet ministers met Tuesday night to discuss the Goldstone report and are expected to hold another meeting last week.