ISLAMABAD, May 16: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will visit Islamabad next week to discuss the Middle East peace process and matters of bilateral interest with Pakistani leaders. Speaking at his weekly press briefing here on Monday, Foreign Office spokesman Jalil Abbas Jilani said Mr Abbas, who would arrive on May 19 for a day-long visit as part of an Asian tour, would be the guest of President Pervez Musharraf.

The two leaders would discuss developments in the Middle East, the ongoing peace process and the difficulties being encountered by it, the spokesman added. “The visit will reinforce the deep-rooted relations that we have with the Palestinians,” Mr Jilani said.

In reply to a question, he said Pakistan could play a very effective and positive role in resolving the Palestinian issue as it had always supported the cause of Palestine and called for a peaceful resolution.

The spokesman said President Pervez Musharraf had offered to play a role in the issue and Pakistan would be very happy to do so if asked by the parties concerned. When asked whether Pakistan was willing to mediate in the Palestinian problem, the spokesman avoided a direct answer and instead said: “The offer by Pakistan is very much there.” However, the modalities would have to be discussed some time later, he said, indicating that the subject could be among the issues which were expected to figure in talks with the Palestinian president. The OIC would also be involved in the resolution of the Palestinian issue, he said.

Mr Jilani ruled out the possibility of recognition of Israel by Pakistan as long as an independent and sovereign state of Palestine was not established in the Middle East. He denied that any government official had visited Israel. Pakistan continued to uphold the sanctity of Al Quds, he said in reply to a question.

The Palestinian leader would also meet Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, Senate Chairman Mohammedmian Soomro and Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri. Responding to a question on the Kashmir bus service, the spokesman said it gave a chance to divided families on both sides of the Line of Control to interact and meet their long-separated dear ones.

He hoped that such interaction among the Kashmiris could ultimately lead to the involvement of the leaders of Kashmiris from both sides to a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue which had been a strong desire and demand of the Kashmiri people and supported by Pakistan as well.

Asked to respond to a report presented to the US Congress on the current security situation in Pakistan, which spoke of a strong political opposition in Balochistan on political and economic issues, the spokesman said Pakistan rejected the conclusions drawn in the report.

He also repudiated a suggestion that Pakistan’s political stability had been rendered vulnerable because of developments in Balochistan. Mr Jilani asserted that what was happening in Balochistan was part of normal democratic, political activity as in all democracies. He claimed that Pakistan was well prepared to counter any threat from internal or external forces to its security and stability.

Responding to questions about water issues between Pakistan and India, the spokesman accused New Delhi of violating the provisions of the Indus Basin Water Treaty. Construction of the Baglihar dam by India which Pakistan believed to be a violation of the treaty had now been referred to the World Bank to resolve the differences.