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Mahmoud Abbas visits Israeli defence minister's home for talks

Meeting at Benny Gantz's residence in Rosh HaAyin was Palestinian president's first formal meeting in Israel since 2010
Hamas, which governs the besieged Gaza Strip, said the visit by Abbas, pictured, went against the "national spirit of our Palestinian people" (File pic/AFP)

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas made a rare visit to Israel on Tuesday for talks with Defence Minister Benny Gantz that the Israelis said focused on security and civil matters.

Israeli media reported that the meeting took place at Gantz's home in the central town of Rosh HaAyin, marking Abbas's first formal meeting in Israel since 2010.

The meeting was initially to be held last week, but Abbas had demanded clarifications from Israel on settler violence and the blacklisting of Palestinian NGOs, Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported.

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Gantz told Abbas that he intended to "continue to promote actions to strengthen confidence in the economic and civilian fields, as agreed during their last meeting," a statement from Israel's defence ministry said.

"The two men discussed security and civil matters," it added.

The ministry said Gantz had approved registration as West Bank residents for some 6,000 people who had been living in the territory, occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East war, without official status.

Another 3,500 people from Gaza would also receive residency documentation, the ministry said.

The ministry also announced a series of what it described as "confidence-building measures" that would ease the entry of hundreds of Palestinian businesspeople between the West Bank and Israel.

According to Haaretz, it was agreed that dozens of so-called VIP passes would be issued for senior PA officials.

Israel also agreed to give the PA 100 million shekels ($32m) as an advance on the taxes Israel collects on its behalf, the newspaper said.

Following the meeting, Gantz tweeted: "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's meeting with Abbas follows a visit to the region by US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

Likud and Hamas condemn meeting

In late August, Gantz visited the PA's headquarters in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, for talks with Abbas, the first official meeting at such a level for several years.

But after those talks, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett underlined that there was no peace process under way with the Palestinians, "and there won't be one".

Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh tweeted on Wednesday: "The meeting [on Tuesday] dealt with the importance of creating a political horizon that leads to a political solution, in accordance with international resolutions."

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The pair also discussed "the tense conditions on the ground due to the practices of settlers" as well as "many security, economic and humanitarian issues".

Israel's right-wing opposition party Likud condemned the latest meeting, saying that "concessions dangerous for Israel's security were only a matter of time".

Likud added a dismissive reference to Bennett's governing coalition, which includes Raam, a party representing Palestinian citizens of Israel.

"The Israeli-Palestinian government has put the Palestinians and Abbas back on the agenda... it is dangerous for Israel," Likud said. 

Hamas, the movement that governs the besieged Gaza Strip and is the rival of Abbas's Fatah, said the PA president's visit went against the "national spirit of our Palestinian people".

"This behaviour by the leadership of the Palestinian Authority deepens the Palestinian political divide, complicates the Palestinian situation, encourages those in the region who want to normalise relations with the occupier, and weakens the Palestinians' rejection of normalisation," Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said.

Qassem was alluding to Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Morocco and Sudan, which earlier this year signed US-brokered normalisation deals with Israel during the presidency of Donald Trump.

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