US envoy holds talks with Israel, Palestinian leaders

US` Mideast envoy George Mitchell has concluded his talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Washington: Special US Envoy for the
Middle East George Mitchell has concluded the first round of
proximity talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

"The talks were serious and wide-ranging," an official
US statement said, but refused to give any details, saying the
full scope of the discussions will remain private.

"Both parties are taking some steps to help create an
atmosphere that is conducive to successful talks, including
President Abbas` statement that he will work against
incitement of any sort and Prime Minister Netanyahu`s
statement that there will be no construction at the Ramat
Shlomo project for two years," Assistant Secretary of State
for Public Affairs P J Crowley said in a statement.

Earlier,Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that the talks will be renewed from the place they left off with the previous Israeli government led by Ehud Olmert and Abbas himself will head the Palestinian negotiation team.

He also emphasized that all of the permanent agreement issues would be put on the negotiation table.

Talks between the two sides broke down when Israel invaded the Gaza Strip in December 2008 and an overwhelmingly right-wing dominated government led by Netanyahu was formed after the February 2009 general elections in Israel.

Welcoming the Palestinian Authority`s decision to resume "proximity talks" after an 18-month hiatus, Netanyahu has expressed hopes that they would soon lead to direct talks.

"The proximity talks must lead to direct talks as soon as possible. Peace cannot be brought from a distance or by remote-control, especially as we are such close neighbours", Netanyahu Sunday told his ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting.

He said the agreements that are crucial to the future of both sides can only be reached through direct negotiation that comes from "us sitting and negotiating in the same room".

"We must achieve peace and security so that we will be able to live side by side with the Palestinians for generations," the Israeli premier stressed.

Heading an overwhelmingly right-wing coalition, the hawkish Israeli leader also insisted that the talks would be held without preconditions.

"I`d like to stress two points in this context - the talks are taking place without preconditions, as we insisted all along," Netanyahu emphasised.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had made a freeze on building activities in the west Bank and Jerusalem a precondition for the launch of peace talks between the two sides.
Netanyahu, fearing a right-wing backlash, had resisted giving up the right to build in east Jerusalem although he announced a temporary freeze on constructions in the West Bank in November.

Recent media reports in Israel have however claimed that despite the Israeli premier`s lofty claims, a de facto halt on construction in east Jerusalem areas is in place.

In a major breakthrough, Palestinian Liberation Organisation`s (PLO) Executive Committee and the Fatah Central Committee yesterday gave their long-delayed backing for the indirect talks to begin.

The militant faction, which has managed to keep control of Gaza since June 2007, stressed that the negotiations will only be with representatives of little more than half of the Palestinians.

Hamas vanquished forces loyal to Abbas in gunbattles in June 2007 and has survived crippling sanctions imposed on the 1.5 million populated coastal territory imposed by Israel and backed by the West since then.


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