Jerusalem: Israeli and Palestinian negotiators held US-mediated talks today to try to revive their crisis-hit peace process, a Palestinian official said, as a report of a possible breakthrough was played down.
Peace talks sponsored by Washington hit a new impasse at the end of March when Israel refused to release a final batch of Palestinian prisoners and the Palestinians retaliated by seeking membership of several international treaties.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who fought hard to kick-start the talks last July, this week blamed Israel for the latest deadlock as Washington mulled how much more time and effort to put into the faltering negotiations.
American envoy Martin Indyk presided over today`s meeting in Jerusalem between Israel`s chief negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, and her Palestinian counterpart Saeb Erakat, a Palestinian source close to the talks told AFP.
Also present were Yitzhak Molcho, a confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian intelligence chief Majed Farah, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Palestinians were pushing for the release of a final batch of prisoners, a commitment Israel reneged on at the end of last month in a move which sparked the crisis.
Israeli public radio confirmed today`s meeting was taking place but gave no details.
An Israeli official told AFP, also asking not to be named, that "Israel wants to return to talks and overcome the current crisis".
Israeli television later reported that the two sides were on the verge of a deal to extend peace talks beyond their original April 29 deadline.
The deal, which could be finalised within "a few days", would see a final batch of Palestinian prisoners released in return for Washington freeing American-born Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, Channel 2 television said.
In Washington, however, a US official, asking not to be named, told AFP that the "reports are incorrect", without going into details.
And a Palestinian official denied any deal was on the table, telling AFP on condition of anonymity that there was still a "deep chasm" between the two sides.
The Israelis have repeatedly asked Barack Obama and previous US presidents to release Pollard, who is serving his sentence in North Carolina for passing US secrets on Arab and Pakistani weapons to Israel during the mid-1980s.