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Palestinian president makes rare Israel visit for talks

JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israel unveiled a package of “confidence-building measures” for the occupied West Bank yesterday, after Defence Minister Benny Gantz hosted talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas (AP pic below) on his first visit in years.

Abbas, leading a high-ranking delegation on his first visit to Israel for an official meeting since 2010, held talks with Gantz at his home in the central town of Rosh HaAyin, according to Israeli sources and media.

“We discussed the implementation of economic and civilian measures, and emphasised the importance of deepening security coordination and preventing terror and violence – for the well-being of both Israelis and Palestinians,” Gantz said after the meeting on Tuesday evening.

Yesterday, Israel’s Defence Ministry announced “confidence-building measures” with the Palestinian Authority (PA).

These included a USD32 million advance payment to the PA in taxes collected on its behalf by Israel, and the granting of 600 extra permits allowing Palestinian businessmen to cross into Israel.

It also announced the regularisation of 6,000 more Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank, which has been under Israeli control since the Six-Day War of 1967.

Israel had already announced in October – for the first time since 2009 – the regularisation of the status of 4,000 Palestinians living in the large swathe of the West Bank known as Area C, where Israel exercises civilian as well as military control.

Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh welcomed the meeting with Gantz, saying it had been a “serious and courageous effort” towards a “political” solution.

“The meeting dealt with the importance of creating a political horizon that leads to a political solution, in accordance with international resolutions,” Sheikh said.

After Israel’s coalition government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was formed in June, Gantz had visited the PA’s headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah in August for talks with Abbas.