Israel's Peres says Palestinian's Abbas only address for peace talks

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is the only person Israel can hold peace negotiations with at this time, Israel's Shimon Peres said Monday.

The statements by Peres, a Cabinet minister, contradicted comments made Sunday by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who called Abbas "powerless" and "helpless" and too weak to implement any peace deal that the sides would reach.

Abbas is "the only address" for negotiations, Peres told Israel's Army Radio.

"There is no one else. It is either Hamas or him. Since Hamas is out of the question, Abu Mazen is the only one that can be considered," Peres said. Abbas is also known as Abu Mazen.

Israel has cut off all ties with the Palestinian government since Hamas took over two months ago, leading an international campaign to punish the Islamic group with debilitating economic sanctions.

Israel, the United States and other Western countries have demanded that Hamas,  a group sworn to Israel's destruction, renounce violence, accept past peace agreements and recognize Israel's right to exist. Hamas has so far rejected the demands.

In the meantime, however, Olmert has said he will not try to bypass Hamas by holding peace talks with Abbas, who was elected president in a separate election and still wields significant authority. Olmert has said that if he is unable to have meaningful peace talks he will move to unilaterally draw Israel's borders by 2010.

Olmert's comments on CNN were broadcast hours after Peres and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni met with Abbas on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik, the highest level contacts between the sides since Hamas' election victory in January, reports the AP.

I.L.