Palestinian president hosts Israeli ministers in West Bank

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — The Palestinian president hosted two Israeli Cabinet ministers for a late-night meeting Sunday, in a new sign of slowly improving ties between the sides.

Israeli Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Freij were the second group of Cabinet members to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas since the new Israeli government took office in June. Defense Minister Benny Gantz also met with Abbas at his West Bank headquarters in August.

The new Israeli government is comprised of eight parties spanning the Israeli political spectrum, from far-right hardliners who oppose a Palestinian state to dovish parties that support a two-state solution. Horowitz and Freij were joined by other members of their Meretz party, the most dovish faction in the coalition. Horowitz leads the party.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett comes from a small, hardline religious party, and he has ruled out the establishment of a Palestinian state on his watch. But he has called for reducing frictions, primarily by taking steps to boost the Palestinian economy.

According to the official Palestinian news agency Wafa, Abbas “stressed the importance of ending the Israeli occupation and achieving a just and comprehensive peace.” Abbas’ autonomy government seeks the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem — territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war.

Horowitz posted a picture of himself and Abbas on Twitter. “We have a shared mission: to preserve the hope for peace, on the basis of a two-state solution,” he said.

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