Israeli foreign minister moots September peace talks

Since May, Israel and the Palestinians have been engaged in proximity talks.

Vilnius: Face-to-face Middle East peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians could start in September, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Wednesday.

"My feeling is that we can move very fast with direct talks, about September this year, we can move from proximity talks to the direct talks," Lieberman told reporters during a visit to the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.

Israel`s experience with Egypt and Jordan showed that comprehensive solutions can be reached only in direct talks, he added.

In Jerusalem yesterday, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said in a statement that he saw direct peace negotiations with the Palestinians starting "within a few weeks”.

The comments were made a few hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Barack Obama at the White House, where the US President said he was expecting to see direct talks underway "well before" the end of September.

Since May, the two sides have been engaged in so-called proximity talks, with US special envoy George Mitchell shuttling between officials in Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The indirect talks have been scheduled to last for four months. Progress permitting, the two sides would then sit down together for what would be their first direct negotiations in more than 18 months.

The Palestinians froze the negotiations in December 2008 when Israel, responding to rockets fired from the Hamas-ruled Gaza strip, launched a 22-day assault on the territory.

The Palestinians have said there can be no direct talks without progress on border and security issues, and without an Israeli pledge to halt all settlement activity on occupied territory, including east Jerusalem.


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