Obama Embarks on Mideast Phone Diplomacy

New President Barack Obama on Wednesday made a flurry of calls to Arab and Israeli leaders in a signal that Middle East peacemaking is a top priority following Israel’s blitz on the Gaza Strip, according to the White House.

A Palestinian spokesman said that Obama had told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that he was the recipient of his first call as the 44th U.S. president.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, Abbas aideObama promised Abbas to work toward a "durable peace" in the Middle East, Abba’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina told AFP.

"He said he would deploy every possible effort to achieve peace as quickly as possible," the spokesman added. "President Abbas urged him to work towards peace based on international resolutions."

The close Abbas aide admitted surprise at the speed with which Obama moved.

"We were not expecting such a quick call from President Obama but we knew how serious he is about the Palestinian problem," said Yasser Abed Rabbo.

"The speed of the call is a message signaling to all concerned parties that the Palestinian people has one address and that’s president Abbas."
A White House source confirmed the calls, on condition of anonymity, and said Obama also telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

Olmert’s office, in a statement to the press, said the Israeli prime minister briefed Obama on the situation in Gaza during their phone call.

Jordan and Egypt, the only Arab countries to have signed peace treaties with Israel, are key mediators between the Jewish state and the Palestinians, including in efforts to clinch a lasting ceasefire in Gaza.

More than a week after Israel launched its Dec. 27 assault in the Gaza Strip to halt rocket fire from the Islamist movement Hamas, Obama promised to engage in Middle East diplomacy "immediately" upon taking office Jan. 20.

Israel’s 22-day assault on Gaza left more than 1,300 Palestinians dead, including at least 400 children.


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