updated 9/16/2006 11:33:43 PM ET 2006-09-17T03:33:43

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will meet President Bush in New York next week and will likely seek to promote his planned coalition with Hamas, a Palestinian official said Saturday.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the meeting with Bush would take place Wednesday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. The White House would not confirm the meeting and it was not clear whether Bush's final schedule in New York had been set. The two men last met in October 2005 in Washington.

Abbas, a moderate who leads the Fatah Party, and the militant Islamic group Hamas, which currently rules alone, agreed last week to form a national unity government that would strive to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel -- implying recognition of the Jewish state.

Hamas, which is committed to Israel's destruction, swept to victory in January legislative elections, defeating Fatah, and formed a government by itself. The West and Israel reacted by cutting off hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, accusing Hamas of being a terrorist group.

Without the foreign aid, the Hamas-led Palestinian government has been unable to pay salaries to its tens of thousands of civil servants, causing widespread hardship. In a sign of desperation, women have parted with their dowry of gold jewelry -- their only financial security in the event of divorce.

Unity government?
Abbas hopes a unity government with Hamas could restore international funding to the cash-starved Palestinian Authority. But the United States has said it wants clearer statements from Hamas that it recognizes Israel, accepts existing peace deals and renounces violence.

The European Union on Friday held off on renewing direct aid to the Palestinian Authority. EU ministers said they supported Abbas' steps to form a broader coalition, but wanted assurances the new government would back peace efforts.

Erekat said Abbas would discuss with Bush the emerging coalition and the fate of an Israeli soldier seized by Hamas-allied militants in Gaza in June, whose capture led to an Israeli military offensive in Gaza.

Erekat said delegations led by Abbas and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni would also meet next week, but would not say what would be on the agenda.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev had no comment on the reported meeting, which would be a precursor to expected talks between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Pressured by sanctions
Hamas has been pressured by tough international sanctions to force it to temper its anti-Israel stance. But Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas suggested Saturday that his group would go no further than it already has in agreeing to the unity government.

The agreement on the national unity government "does not discuss the recognition of (peace) agreements signed with the Israeli occupation," Haniyeh told Associated Press Television News. "We will work with these agreements according to what serves the higher Palestinian interests, but that does not mean we recognize them."

Israel has been boycotting the Hamas government but considers Abbas, who favors peacemaking, an acceptable partner for talks.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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