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Roundup: Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks start

Roundup: Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks start

[09/May/2010]

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by Saud Abu Ramadan, Fares Akram

GAZA/RAMALLAH, May 9 (Saba) -- A senior Palestinian official announced on Sunday that the U.S.-sponsored proximity talks between the Palestinians and Israel have started, according to Xinhua.

"We can now say that the indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians have started and they will last for four months," chief Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat told reporters following a meeting between President Mahmoud Abbas and George Mitchell, the U.S. Middle East envoy who will lead the talks.

Erekat also said that the U.S. administration will later on Sunday issue an official statement announcing that the four-month proximity talks have started, adding "President Abbas himself will be heading the Palestinian negotiation team, and all the permanent- status issues will be debated."

Mitchell has been in the region for five days, acting as a go- between to bridge the gaps between Israel and the Palestinians.

The proximity talks, which Washington proposed three months ago, aim at paving the way for the resumption of face-to-face negotiations that stopped in December 2008 and failed to restart due to a dispute over Jewish settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Erekat described Mitchell-Abbas talks as "positive," adding " President Abbas told Mitchell that the Palestinian leadership would do its best to succeed the talks which will include all issues related to borders, Jerusalem, settlement, refugees, water, security and the release of the Palestinian prisoners."

"At the start of the four-month proximity talks, there will be a focus on the issues of borders and security, but this doesn't mean that we will neglect the other issues. Nothing will be agreed upon until we agree on everything," said Erekat, adding "these talks will be with the United States, instead of with Israel."

Speaking about the shape and mechanism of the proximity talks, Erekat said that "there will be no negotiation committees or negotiation teams. The proximity talks will be led by Mitchell between President Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu."

"Moving to face-to-face negotiation is conditioned with the full cessation of settlement activities, including the natural growth, and launching the direct talks from the point it had reached when it stopped in December 2008," said Erekat.

Meanwhile, the deposed Hamas government in Gaza Strip said on Sunday that it has sent a series of letters to the United States and other western countries, while denied that it has proposed plans aimed at settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East.

"The government has corresponded with several Western countries, including the U.S. administration, in several occasions, but has not offered any new proposals in terms of political settlement," Ahmed Yousef, a senior official at the Foreign Ministry of deposed Hamas government, told Xinhua.

He added that the letters were sent through "Western mediators, " which only explained the situation in the Gaza Strip and the impact of more than three years of Israeli blockade that has been imposed on Gaza since Hamas took over the coastal enclave in 2007.

On Sunday, Israel's Yediot Aharonot newspaper reported that Ismail Haneya, deposed Hamas prime minister, recently sent at least two letters to U.S. President Barack Obama with suggestions to achieve a lasting ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians and resolve the conflicts with Israel.

The report pointed out that Obama hasn't replied to Hamas with the solid U.S. position that Hamas should first recognize Israel and give up armed resistance in exchange for international recognition. The United States, as many European countries, has listed Hamas as a terrorist organization.

Yousef said the last letter to the U.S. administration was sent by Hamas about one month ago. "It was not a few days ago as the newspaper claimed," he said.

Hamas has maintained a shaky ceasefire with Israel since the end of Israel's military offensive in Gaza last year. Hamas leaders has repeatedly announced that they accept a Palestinian statehood on the 1967 borders.

Saba

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