The Palestinian president and Israel’s foreign minister have met the highest-level talks between the two sides since the Islamist group Hamas formed the Palestinian government in March.

Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni said she told Mahmoud Abbas at the talks on Sunday that Israel, which has boycotted Hamas since it took office, wanted to help the Palestinian people.

"It is a terrorist government. On the other hand we want to help the Palestinian people and not to punish them. …This was part of the discussion," she told reporters after the 45-minute talks at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Israel radio said Abbas and Livni would try to form a "bypass" channel to maintain communications without including Hamas in their talks.

The meeting, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum, was attended by Abbas’ chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, and the Israeli deputy prime minister, Shimon Peres.

Erekat described the atmosphere in the talks as positive and said the two sides had agreed to meet again to lay the groundwork for a summit between Abbas and the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert.

"A range of issues were discussed – political, humanitarian and economic," Erekat said.
"We focused on reviving the partnership for peace. This is one of a series of meetings and we want to make sure there is a good preparation" for the summit.

Ahead of the meeting, Abbas said that the "first and sole reference (in the peace process) is the road map", the peace plan drawn up by the US, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.

Livni did say the roadmap remained in force but did not elaborate.

Erikat said the Abbas team had reiterated requests for the  Israeli government to release customs duties it traditionally  collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority but which have been frozen since February.
The $55 million transferred monthly to the Palestinian Authority up until a month after Hamas won the general elections was a major source of budget financing.

The Israeli cabinet partly responded to Abbas’ plea by approving on Sunday the transfer of $11 million worth of medicine and health supplies to the Palestinians to help ease the deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"We have no intention of helping the Palestinian government," Olmert before the cabinet meeting. ‘We will not transfer one cent to any Palestinian official but … we will transfer above and beyond what is necessary for humanitarian needs."

Palestinian hospitals have suffered from a lack of medicines since the aid freeze. Two people have died from a lack of treatment and hundreds of dialysis patients are in danger, Israeli and Palestinian doctors from the group Physicians for Human Rights said last week.

The meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh comes against a backdrop of escalating tension in the Palestinian territories, with four Palestinians, including a local Islamic Jihad military commander, killed in an Israeli air raid on the Gaza Strip on Saturday.

Israel said it would open an investigation into the Gaza attack that left two women and a boy dead besides the Islamic Jihad fighter.

A Palestinian woman was also shot dead during a dawn raid by Israeli soldiers in the Balata refugee camp in the West Bank on Sunday.

Islamic Jihad fired five crude rockets at the southern Israeli town of Sderot, one of which hit an empty classroom.

Also on Sunday, Palestinians security officials said they had found a bomb outside the Gaza home of the residence of the overall chief of security, Rashid Abu Shbak.

The foiled attack came a day after the chief of intelligence, Tareq Abu Rajab, was seriously wounded along with seven others while one of his bodyguards was killed in a Gaza blast.

Abbas’ Fatah and Hamas are caught in an increasingly violent power struggle focused on control of the security apparatus in Gaza.

Abbas vowed in Sharm El-Sheikh to revive internal talks with Hamas.

"Civil war is the red line that nobody dares cross, no matter which side they are on. …Civil war is forbidden," he said.

"There will be a meeting between the prime minister and Abu Mazen (Abbas) after his return from the United States in order to verify the possibility of resuming the negotiations," said Peres, a former prime minister who worked closely with Abbas on the 1993 Oslo autonomy accords.

Olmert was due to fly out of Israel to Washington later on Sunday for his first meeting with the US president, George W Bush, since winning the March 28 general election.

Olmert has vowed to redraw the borders of Israel by leaving parts of the occupied West Bank but retaining the largest Jewish settlements.

He said he would rather achieve his plan through negotiations with the Palestinians but, claiming he has no partner for peace among them, warned he would go ahead with or without their agreement.
Peres said it was vital that Israel co-ordinate its position on how to proceed with the peace process, which has made no progress for over a year.

"We should revive the negotiations, but we must first coordinate our positions with the Americans," Olmert told Israeli radio before his departure for Egypt.

*this article was reprinted from Aljazeera