US in Palestinian crisis talks

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The Independent Online

America's Middle East envoy, John Wolf, met a senior Palestinian official yesterday over a crisis in the Palestinian leadership that prompted Abu Mazen, the Prime Minister, to threaten to quit.

In Washington, an official said the government would grant $20m (about £12.2m) to the Palestinian Authority, bypassing Yasser Arafat. The aid was meant to bolster the Abu Mazen regime, the official said.

America and Israel pressed President Arafat to appoint Abu Mazen Prime Minister in April, claiming Mr Arafat was tainted by terrorism. American diplomacy is aimed at ending 33 months of violence. Israeli media reports said Mr Wolf would also meet the Israeli Defence Minister, Shaul Mofaz, and urge Israel to release more Palestinian prisoners and dismantle more illegal settlement outposts in the occupied territories, moves Palestinians have been demanding and which would bolster Abu Mazen's position.

On Tuesday, he threatened to resign unless his party backed his tactics with Israel. The three largest Palestinian militant groups declared a unilateral ceasefire on 29 June, but say it will collapse unless Israel releases most of the estimated 6,000 Palestinian prisoners it holds.

Yesterday, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, founder of Hamas, said the release of prisoners, "is a red line we cannot pass".

* Israeli troops killed one man and seriously wounded his wife in the West Bank in an effort to arrest the man's brother, a Fatah member.(AP)