This article was published by Agence France Presse, January 21, 2009.
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 an Israeli offensive in Gaza.
A Palestinian spokesman said that Obama had told Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas that he was the recipient of his first call as the 44th US president.
The 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.
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 December 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 January 20.
Obama 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."
A 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 signalling to all concerned parties that the Palestinian people has one address and that's president Abbas."
The Islamist Hamas movement ousted Abbas' Palestinian Authority from the Gaza Strip in 2007, deepening divisions between the two camps.
"It also shows the level of seriousness that we hope to see translated into practice in the future," Abed Rabbo said.
"This message after the Israeli massacre in Gaza shows that President Obama realizes that the only way out of this tragedy is a political settlement guaranteeing the rights of the Palestinian people."
He was referring to the 22-day Israeli assault on the strip that left more than 1,300 Palestinians dead, including at least 400 children.
Hillary Clinton, Obama's choice for secretary of state who is expected to face a Senate vote Wednesday for her confirmation, said recently that she would rule out engaging with Hamas.
The Senate will hold a roll call vote on Clinton's appointment the day after Obama was inaugurated, a Democratic leadership source said.
Obama then plans to name former Northern Ireland peacemaker George Mitchell as his Middle East envoy, aides told the Washington Post, adding the move is to send a signal the new administration wants to deal quickly with the conflict.
Mitchell, 75, is a retired US senator who steered the tough negotiations that led to lasting peace in Northern Ireland. He is the son of a Lebanese immigrant mother, and of an Irish father who when orphaned was adopted by a Lebanese family.