Olmert, Abbas pick up peace talks ahead of Bush visit

Other News Materials 5 May 2008 16:38 (UTC +04:00)

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met in Jerusalem Monday, resuming what Abbas has called their "marathon negotiations" ahead of next week's visit by US President George W Bush, reported dpa.

The heads of their mutual negotiating teams, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former Palestinian premier Ahmed Qureia, attended the meeting too, Israel Radio reported.

Olmert met earlier over breakfast with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on her last day of a three-day tour of Israel and the West Bank preparing for Bush's arrival. No details were released of the private talks.

Olmert and Abbas met twice last month, but before that had not met for seven weeks, as the Palestinian president suspended the talks in protest of a deadly five-day Israeli military operation that had retaliated a surge in rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip.

Abbas had told a news conference with Rice in Ramallah Sunday the negotiations - revived in November after a seven-year freeze in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process - were ongoing with Israeli and US administration officials on a "daily, almost hourly basis."

He said all the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including Jerusalem, refugees and borders, were being "discussed and negotiated in depth and in very clear details."

He said nothing had been written down as yet, adding the sides would only get round to drafting the agreement on paper when "90 per cent of the negotiations" had been completed.

Abbas and Olmert agreed in Annapolis, Maryland late last year to "make every effort" to reach a peace deal this year still.

But ongoing Israeli construction in Jewish settlement blocks which Israel has vowed to keep even after a peace deal, and persisting violence in and from the Gaza Strip have cast doubt on the talks.

Rice said Sunday a peace deal was still possible before Bush leaves office in January 2009.

In a news conference in Ramallah with Abbas, she however called the Israeli settlement construction "problematic." Israel could do more to improve the daily lives of Palestinians in Abbas' Fatah- dominated West Bank, she added.

Israel meanwhile announced that it planned to remove another bottleneck checkpoint in the West Bank next week.

The "sheep checkpoint" south of Hebron on the southern West Bank is the third permanent one Israel has removed during the past month, as part of pledges made to the US.

The military plans to remove it after Israel celebrates its 60th Independence Day Thursday, Israel Radio reported. A flying roadblock will replace it for a transition period.

Bush is due to arrive in Tel Aviv on Wednesday next week for a three-day visit coinciding with Israel's celebrations of its 60th anniversary. Israel was established on May 14, 1948. Celebrations for its 60th Independence Day begin Thursday, the anniversary according to the Jewish calendar.