Foreign ministers meet to discuss Palestinians

Thursday, July 5, 2007

PARIS -- The foreign ministers of Israel and Morocco held their first publicly disclosed talks in years Wednesday, with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the heart of the discussion.

In separate meetings, French officials pressed Israel to take the initiative in bolstering moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni confirmed that Israel would release 250 prisoners from Abbas' Fatah movement.

The Moroccan minister, Mohamed Benaissa, did not speak to reporters after meeting Livni, but shook her hand for the cameras.

Morocco broke off ties with Israel after the start of Israeli-Palestinian fighting in 2000, accusing Israeli forces of "inhuman acts" against Palestinian civilians. It closed the Israeli liaison bureau in Morocco and Morocco's liaison office in Tel Aviv.

But contacts have continued, largely behind the scenes.

Before relations soured, Morocco played an important behind-the-scenes role in the Middle East crisis under King Hassan II, who died in 1999. About 500,000 Israelis, roughly 10 percent of the Jewish population, are immigrants from Morocco or their descendants.

In her remarks to reporters -- she took no questions -- Livni said that Israel and moderate Arab nations including Morocco share common interests.

"We have the same concerns, we face the same threats, and so we want to see a process in place so we can move forward," she said.

Livni announced that Israel would shortly release prisoners to send a message to the Fatah government.

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