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Palestinian president makes rare visit to Israel

President Mahmoud Abbas made a rare visit to Israel for talks on economic and security issues with Israel's defense chief

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made a rare visit to Israel for talks on economic and security issues with Israel’s defense chief, but with few prospects for any resumption of long-stalled peace negotiations.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz hosted Abbas in his home late on Tuesday, the Western-backed Palestinian leader’s first such visit to Israel in more than a decade.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Israeli Defense Ministry announced a series of what it described as “confidence-building measures” that would ease the entry of hundreds of Palestinian business people to Israel.

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Abbas and Gantz last met in August, in the occupied West Bank. Palestinian official Hussein al-Sheikh said that at Tuesday’s talks they discussed the “importance of creating a political horizon” for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Gantz, in his summation of the meeting on Twitter, made no mention of a peace process, stalled since 2014 after U.S.-backed talks collapsed. Palestinians seek to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

“We discussed the implementation of economic and civilian measures, and emphasized the importance of deepening security coordination and preventing terror and violence – for the well-being of both Israelis and Palestinians,” Gantz wrote.

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Divisions on both sides

Israel’s multi-party government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is deeply divided over the statehood issue. Palestinian rivalries remain strong, with Hamas Islamists, who have fought four wars with Israel, running the Gaza Strip.

In a move that could ease travel for thousands of Palestinians, the Defense Ministry said Gantz approved registration as West Bank residents for some 6,000 people who had been living in the territory, captured by Israel in a 1967 war, without official status.

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

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The meeting followed several Palestinian attacks on Israelis in recent weeks in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Palestinians also complain of attacks by Israeli settlers.

In Gaza, Hazem Qassem, a Hamas spokesman, said that by meeting Gantz, Abbas was deepening Palestinian political divisions and encouraging accommodation with “the occupation”, a term the group uses to describe Israel.

Reuters with additional input from GVS News Desk