Olmert-Abbas talks stall

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas met on Tuesday and vowed to accelerate peace talks, but failed to address core issues such as the future of Jerusalem. France 24's Marc de Chalvron reports from Jerusalem.


Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas met on Tuesday in a bid to advance peace talks as Israeli troops continued to strike the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Less than three months after relaunching the peace process at a conference in the United States with a commitment to try to ink a deal by the end of 2008, the negotiations appear to be stalled amid persistent violence in Gaza.

Israeli troops shot dead a 10-year-old boy and a Palestinian gunman in separate incidents on Tuesday, medics said, bringing to at least 188 the number of people killed since the peace talks resumed, according to an AFP count.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said troops operating in the area responded when a group of Palestinians opened fire on them.

The armed wing of the Islamist Hamas movement which seized control of the Gaza Strip in June said it had fired 13 mortar rounds at an Israeli foot patrol.

In Jerusalem, Olmert met Abbas and top negotiators from both sides for dinner before the two leaders held one-on-one discussions.

The discussions "were deep, and tonight the prime minister and the Israeli delegation upheld their obligation to negotiate all final status issues," Saeb Erakat, a senior Palestinian negotiator, told AFP after the talks.

In the days leading up to the meeting, the two sides had been at loggerheads over Jerusalem, with Olmert vowing to leave it to the end of the talks and the Palestinians insisting it should be discussed alongside other core issues.

A senior Israeli official who attended Tuesday's talks told AFP the subject was not raised by either side.

Erakat said the Palestinians "assured the Israeli delegation that we would study the issue of Jerusalem but we did not discuss all the issues in detail."

Abbas did however "emphasise that it was not possible to postpone any particular final status issue or advance one issue at the expense of another," Erakat said.

"The president said we want complete and total solution for all the issues," he said, referring to the core issues of the decades-old conflict, including Jerusalem, borders, Jewish settlements, and Palestinian refugees.

The Palestinians had criticised Olmert for saying on Sunday that Jerusalem would be tackled last after a key coalition partner, the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, said it would quit his government the moment the issue was raised.

Israel has declared the entire city its "eternal, undivided capital", a move not recognised by the international community or the Palestinians, who have repeatedly demanded east Jerusalem as the capital of their promised state.

Palestinians have repeatedly bemoaned the lack of progress, not only on the issue of Jerusalem, but with regard to the other core disputes.

"Not enough has happened over the past three months that could suggest to me that a treaty, per se, is going to be possible by the end of 2008," Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad said on Tuesday.

But the senior Israeli official insisted both sides were still focused on concluding a "comprehensive agreement" by the end of the year.

The renewed peace talks have been marred by violence in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, where Israel launches regular air and ground raids in a bid to curb near-daily rocket fire from the territory.

Abbas -- whose forces were driven from Gaza in June -- called for a reciprocal ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians "on all Palestinian lands" and asked Israel to increase its humanitarian aid and ease restrictions on Gaza.

Israel "promised there would not be a humanitarian crisis but no one promised the reopening of the crossings," the senior official said.

Israel's decision to seal all crossings into Gaza has sparked fears of a humanitarian crisis among the population of 1.5 million.

Hamas officials held talks with Egyptian security officials on Tuesday in a bid to reopen the Rafah border, the sole Gaza crossing point not connected to Israel, a security source said in Egypt.

And at a conference in Amman, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East Robert Serry urged Israel to halt its "collective punishment" of the Gaza population.


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