US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will seek to solve an impasse over Israeli plans not to extend a freeze on settlement construction in the occupied West Bank as Mideast talks resume in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
AFP - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Israeli and Palestinian leaders were "serious" about peace ahead of a meeting Wednesday expected to address a lingering deadlock over Jewish settlements.
The three were to meet in the early evening a day after holding hours of discussions in Egypt which focused on the core issues of the conflict as well as the expiry of a partial settlement moratorium later this month.
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"They are getting down to business and they have begun to grapple with the core issues that can only be resolved with face-to-face negotiations," Clinton told reporters after meeting Israeli President Shimon Peres.
"I believe they are serious about reaching an agreement... This is the time and these are the leaders, and the United States will stand by them as they make difficult decisions."
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has warned that if the moratorium is not extended, he will walk out of the negotiations, which were relaunched earlier this month after a 20-month hiatus.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to renew the moratorium but hinted he would rein in settlement construction after US President Barack Obama said he had urged the premier to renew the restrictions.
Clinton was to hold a series of talks ahead of the three-way meeting at 1500 GMT, including with Israel's tough-talking foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, who strongly opposes any continuation of the settlement freeze.
The US secretary of state met President Shimon Peres early on Wednesday ahead of talks with Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad.
Shortly after Clinton landed in Israel late on Tuesday, Palestinian militants in Gaza fired a rocket and two mortar rounds into southern Israel, in what has become a near daily occurrence over the past week.
No one was wounded, but the attacks underscored the potential for a violent confrontation with Hamas, the Islamist rulers of Gaza, who are vehemently opposed to the renewed peace talks.
US envoy George Mitchell said on Tuesday that the two sides had begun a "serious discussion on core issues" at the talks in Egypt.
These include Israel's security, the borders of a future Palestinian state, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem.
But with only two weeks until the end of the freeze, the standoff over Israeli settlement building loomed large over Wednesday's agenda.
In a sign of the seriousness of the efforts to reach some kind of compromise, Netanyahu was expected to travel to Washington at the weekend for another round of talks with US President Barack Obama, Israeli media reported.
The reports were not confirmed by officials in Netanyahu's office.
Little visible progress was made on the settlement issue on Tuesday, with US envoy George Mitchell telling reporters only that "we believe that we are moving in the right direction overall."
Tuesday's talks were believed to have centred on the agenda for the negotiations. Netanyahu reportedly wants to focus on future security arrangements and secure Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
But the Palestinians want to discuss the core issues and define the borders of their future state, which could neutralise the settlements issue by demarcating where Israel can build.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said Netanyahu was seeking to quickly negotiate an agreement that would be implemented over a long period.
Following the Jerusalem talks, Mitchell is expected to fly to Syria for a meeting with President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday, the US embassy in Damascus said.
Mitchell's visit is aimed at reviving Syria's talks with Israel, a senior US official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
Date created : 2010-09-15