Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's visit to White House gains new focus
Abbas's White House visit acquires new focus
President Obama is scheduled to meet Wednesday with the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, in a White House session whose mission has changed in the past week. Once viewed primarily as a presidential push to turn indirect Israeli-Palestinian talks into direct peace negotiations, the meeting will now focus on how best to contain the fallout from Israel's deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla last week.
Abbas was supposed to follow Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to the White House. But the Israeli leader canceled his visit last week to return to Israel after the raid, which killed nine civilians.
So Abbas will go first. He and Obama will discuss how Palestinians should proceed with peace talks. But they will also talk about ways to improve the situation in the Gaza Strip, which has been under Israeli blockade in one form or another for five years.
A White House official said Obama intends to express "U.S. support for specific projects to promote economic development and greater quality of life, as well as a long-term strategy for progress" in the coastal strip. Gaza is run by Abbas's chief political rival, the armed Islamist movement Hamas, but Obama has spoken out harshly against the Israeli closure.
The president is also expected to raise the issue of direct talks with Netanyahu, when he reschedules his White House visit, probably for some time in the coming weeks.
-- Scott Wilson
Diver toll reaches 6; Gaza blockade eased
The bodies of two more Palestinians shot dead at sea by the Israeli navy washed up on the Gaza Strip's shore Tuesday, bringing the death toll in the Monday incident to six. The Israeli military said its forces had fired upon "a squad of terrorists wearing diving suits on their way to execute a terror attack."
On Monday, Israel allowed jam, shaving razors and the Palestinian sweet halva into the blockaded enclave, and a Palestinian coordinating committee said it was told that spices including coriander and cardamom would be allowed in starting Thursday.