World Israeli PM Yair Lapid calls Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas...

Israeli PM Yair Lapid calls Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in rare direct contact

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July 8 (UPI) — Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid spoke by telephone with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Friday, marking the first direct contact between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in years.

Abbas congratulated Lapid on assuming office while the Israeli leader “extended his best wishes to the PA Chairman on the occasion of the Eid al-Adha holiday,” which begins Saturday, according to an official government statement.

The two spoke about “the continuation of cooperation and the need to ensure quiet and calm,” it added.

The official Palestinian news agency WAFA reported Lapid, who officially took office as Israeli’s 14th prime minister last week, “expressed his hopes that peace and stability would prevail in the region as soon as possible” during the conversation.

He and Abbas “discussed the latest situation briefly,” Palestinian Liberation Organization Executive Committee Secretary-General Hussein al-Sheikh said in a tweet.

The conversation marked the first time an Israeli prime minister has spoken directly to Abbas in more than five years and came as preparations are underway for a visit from U.S. President Joe Biden next week.

It was the culmination of a recent uptick of diplomatic contact between Israeli and Palestinian officials during which Abbas also spoke with his Israeli counterpart, Isaac Herzog, and met Thursday with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz in the occupied West Bank.

Al-Sheikh said Abbas stressed the “importance of preparing the calm atmosphere” before Biden’s visit during his meeting with Gantz, adding that the Palestinian Authority welcomes the U.S. president’s trip to the region.

Biden is scheduled to make stops in Israel, the West Bank and Saudi Arabia during three-day trip, which is scheduled to begin Wednesday.

A White House statement issued last month said Biden aims to meet with Israeli leaders “to discuss Israel’s security, prosperity, and its increasing integration into the greater region,” while in the West Bank he will “consult with the Palestinian Authority and to reiterate his strong support for a two-state solution, with equal measures of security, freedom, and opportunity for the Palestinian people.”

The trip is scheduled to wrap up on July 15 with a stop in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where Biden will attend a summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council plus Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan, a group also known as the GCC+3.

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