September 16, 2008 - 8:00pm

A Palestinian official says President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will continue to met for peace talks as long as Olmert remains in office.

Olmert has pledged to step down over corruption allegations but he could stay in his post until next year if his resignation leads to a new election.

He and Abbas met Tuesday and an Israeli official said afterward that the two would meet again after Abbas returns from the UN General Assembly in New York later this month.

Briefing reporters Wednesday on the previous evening's meeting Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said: "Olmert asked for more meetings, we said we're OK with that...Olmert is the prime minister of Israel, and until he leaves office, we will still be dealing with him."

Olmert and Abbas discussed core peace issues at a summit meeting Tuesday, an Israeli official said, in a push to forge a peace agreement by the end of the year.

The talks came a day before Olmert's Kadima Party chooses a new leader in a process that could put peace efforts on hold for several months. Olmert has said he will resign over corruption allegations after the Wednesday party primary, though he could remain in office until next year if his resignation leads to a new election.

After the two-hour meeting late Tuesday, government spokesman Mark
Regev did not point to progress, but said the main issues of the conflict were discussed. He did not elaborate, but those issues are known to include borders, Palestinian refugees, Jewish settlements and Jerusalem.

Regev said the two would meet again after Abbas returns from the UN General Assembly in New York later this month. He said Olmert will continue to press ahead with the talks as long as he is prime minister.

Olmert and Abbas have met regularly since last November, when they renewed peace talks and pledged to try for an accord by January. Regev said Olmert believes that is still possible. What is required is effort, creativity and flexibility, he told reporters outside Olmert's residence, where the meeting took place. We on the Israeli side are committed to that effort.

But other Israeli officials, including Vice Premier Haim Ramon, are
pessimistic. Ramon said this week he did not expect an agreement this year or next year.

There was no immediate Palestinian comment. Before the meeting, negotiator Saeb Erekat said there are still gaps on all issues, adding the Palestinian insistence on a comprehensive solution. Either we have an agreement on all issues or no agreement, he said.

Internal Palestinian violence in Gaza Tuesday between the ruling Islamic Hamas and an outlaw clan underlined a basic problem facing Abbas and Olmert - Abbas rules only the West Bank. His Fatah forces were expelled from Gaza by Hamas last year. Israel believes no accord can be implemented until Abbas regains control of Gaza.

The overnight violence, which left 11 dead and more than 40 wounded, showed the extent to which Gaza has become a difficult to rule armed camp of competing forces.

Two bystanders, including a boy, were among the dead in the clash.


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