US envoy to meet Israel PM for indirect peace talks

US envoy was to meet Israeli PM as part of "proximity talks".

Jerusalem: US envoy George Mitchell was to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday as part of "proximity talks" with the Palestinians which resumed earlier in the month, officials said.

Israeli and US officials confirmed the meeting would take place but declined to provide any further details. Mitchell has kept a low profile on previous visits and had no immediate plans to speak to the media.

Israeli media have reported that Netanyahu would offer a package of goodwill gestures to encourage the Palestinians to proceed to direct talks, which they have refused in the absence of a total freeze of Israeli settlements.

The gestures are said to include the release of prisoners, the lifting of roadblocks in the West Bank and the expansion of those parts of the territory under limited Palestinian self-rule.

Israeli media have also said Israel plans to free up land currently allocated to settlements in order to build a road linking a large-scale planned Palestinian community to the West Bank political capital of Ramallah.

Israeli officials declined to comment on the reports.

Mitchell on Wednesday met with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas and was given letters of protest against the killing of a Palestinian teenager in the West Bank, allegedly by an Israeli settler, and the killing of an elderly farmer in Gaza near the heavily-guarded border by the Israeli military.

The letters also addressed "the numerous Israeli provocative statements of the last few days”, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said, referring to statements by Netanyahu and other officials that settlement construction would continue in annexed east Jerusalem.

Mitchell plans to shuttle between Washington, Jerusalem and Ramallah as part of the indirect peace talks launched on May 09.

Bureau Report