Clinton meets Abbas amid Middle East peace moves

Clinton with Jordan king Abdulla Israeli settlements on occupied land

  • More than 430,000 settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, alongside 2.5 million Palestinians
  • 20,000 settlers live in the Golan Heights
  • Settlements and the area they take up cover 40% of the West Bank
  • There are about 100 settlements not authorised by the Israeli govt in the West Bank

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to conclude three days of talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. With no sign of a deal on settlement building in the West Bank, Mr Abbas said there was no choice but to continue negotiating. President Mubarak of Egypt has urged Israel to extend the partial ban on construction for three months. Mrs Clinton repeated her confidence that all core issues could be resolved.

‘No alternative’

As Mrs Clinton arrived in Ramallah in the West Bank, Mr Abbas said everyone knew there was no alternative to peace through negotiations. "So we have no alternative other than to continue these efforts," he said. The Palestinian leader acknowledged that conditions were difficult, and a senior Palestinian official was quoted as saying that broad gaps remained on the question of settlements. Neither Mrs Clinton nor Mr Abbas spoke after the meeting. The US secretary of state then travelled to Jordan for a meeting with King Abdullah II. Jordan already has a peace treaty with Israel, and King Abdullah took part in

the resumption of talks in Washington earlier this month. At a news conference in Amman, Mrs Clinton said she had expressed her confidence during the meeting that Mr Netanyahu and President Abbas could make "the difficult decisions necessary to resolve all of the core issues within one year.” Meanwhile, US envoy George Mitchell was due to meet Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus in an effort to revive Syrian-Israeli peace talks, and was then planning to go on to Lebanon.

Egyptian pressure

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has become the latest figure to urge Israel to extend its 10-month partial moratorium on construction work in Jewish settlements. Israel has so far refused to renew the restrictions, which are due to expire on 26 September. In that period, he suggested, the two sides could have sufficient time to draft future borders. If agreement were to be reached, then building could resume along those lines. Mr Netanyahu’s office said he was standing by his position not to prolong the moratorium, although he has recently indicated that limits would be placed on construction.

‘Tough issues’

During Wednesday’s three-way talks in Jerusalem, Mr Mitchell said Israeli and Palestinian leaders had made "progress" on the issue of Jewish West Bank settlements although he gave no further details. Mr Mitchell said the two leaders had tackled the issues at the heart of their decades-old conflict – Israel’s security, the borders of a future Palestinian state, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem. In a symbolic move, Mr Netanyahu placed a Palestinian flag alongside the US and Israeli flags at a joint appearance at his official residence in Jerusalem, following a custom started by his predecessor, Ehud Olmert. It was a first for Mr Netanyahu, who only endorsed the idea of creating a Palestinian state a year ago.

Renewed violence

Meanwhile, Israeli aircraft have attacked the Gaza Strip following Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks. Gaza is controlled by the Islamist group Hamas, while Mr Abbas heads the Palestinian Authority, which controls Palestinian areas of the West Bank. As the leaders held talks in Jerusalem on Wednesday, Palestinian militants fired a rocket at the southern port city of Ashkelon, along with several rounds of mortar fire along the Gaza-Israel border, the Israeli military said. In response, the Israeli air force bombed southern Gaza, killing one Palestinian and wounding two. It followed up with an overnight raid on two suspected weapons caches in the northern and southern Gaza Strip, the military said. Gaza’s governing Hamas movement said one of the sites hit was a soap factory. The Popular Resistance Committees, a small militant group opposed to the talks, said it was behind the Palestinian militant attacks, which caused no casualties. Although Hamas militants were not believed to have launched the attacks, Israeli officials accused the group of turning a blind eye to the activities of other factions in the territory that are opposed to the peace talks.

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