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Jordan king to visit West Bank

Jordan's King Abdullah II

Jordan’s King Abdullah II

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: Jordan’s King Abdullah II will visit the West Bank on Monday where he will hold talks with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas, Palestinian officials said on Sunday.

“King Abdullah II will visit Ramallah tomorrow for a meeting with president Abbas and the two leaders will hold a press conference at the presidential headquarters in Ramallah on the latest political developments,” a senior Palestinian official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Jordan’s official Petra news agency confirmed news of the surprise visit.

“King Abdullah II will on Monday visit Ramallah for talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in the framework of Jordan’s efforts to support the Palestinian National Authority and the Palestinian people,” the agency said.

The visit, which Petra said would bolster efforts “to achieve peace and the creation of an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 borders,” comes at a delicate political time for Abbas.

The Palestinian leader has angered Israel and Washington over his attempt to secure full state membership for Palestine at the United Nations, and through his attempts to cement a reconciliation deal between his Fatah party and the Islamist Hamas movement which rules Gaza.

“We consider this visit an important part of King Abdullah’s support for president Abbas on the direction of Palestinian policy as well as for the Palestinian people, particularly under the current circumstances,” the official told AFP.

He said Abdullah would fly to Ramallah by helicopter and arrive at around 11:30am (0930 GMT, 5.30 pm Singapore time). He would then hold talks with Abbas after which the two would hold a joint news conference at 1:00 pm.

The visit will be Abdullah’s second official visit to the West Bank, but the first since Abbas took office in 2005, Palestinian officials said.

A spokesman for Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu said the premier was unaware of the visit.

Details of the trip were announced shortly before Abbas was to fly to Cairo to meet exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal on implementing the reconciliation deal the two parties signed in May.

The long-awaited deal called for immediate formation of an interim government of independents to pave the way for presidential and legislative elections within a year.

But implementation of the agreement, mediated by Egypt and signed in Cairo, stalled over the composition of the government and, in particular, who would serve at its head.

Abbas reportedly sought to keep his current prime minister Salam Fayyad, who was strongly opposed by Hamas.

But Fayyad has said publicly in recent days that he would be willing to step down for the sake of a unity government, and reports suggest Abbas and Meshaal will agree on an alternate, politically independent candidate later this week.

Fayyad is well regarded by the international community and particularly by Washington, which has expressed caution about Abbas’s decision to sign the reconciliation deal with Hamas.

On Sunday evening, US deputy secretary of state William Burns held talks with Abbas in Ramallah, and was to meet Netanyahu on Monday.

Israel’s Maariv newspaper had earlier reported that Burns was to deliver a warning that any new government must renounce violence, agree to abide by previous agreements with Israel and recognise Israel’s right to exist.

The US consulate in Jerusalem confirmed the meetings, but had no details on the agenda for the talks.