Mideast peace deal still possible this year: US (Lead)

May 4th, 2008 - 9:28 pm ICT by admin  

Tel Aviv/Ramallah, May 4 (DPA) A peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians is still possible by the end of the year, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday after further talks with the two sides. Expanding Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which affected confidence-building between Israel and the Palestinian Authority remained “problematic”, she said.

Rice was speaking in Ramallah after talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas - a meeting which in turn had followed talks she had with Israeli leaders late Saturday and early Sunday.

Rice said she and Abbas discussed the issue of settlements, and also easing the life of the Palestinians in Abbas’ Fatah-dominated West Bank by lifting Israeli checkpoints and restoring order by allowing deployment of pro-Abbas forces.

Rice said she had spent much time in the issue, and its links with the issue of improving the Palestinian security forces’ performance.

Abbas said he hoped to deploy the PA’s forces in every Palestinian town following Saturday’s deployment in the northern West Bank city of Jenin. The deployments are part of the US-backed road map plan.

Abbas renewed the PA’s commitment to negotiations and peace process with Israel, part of which, he said, he would meet Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert Monday.

The heads of the negotiation teams - former Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei and Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni - were also to meet Monday.

“The meetings will discuss the final-status issues and the vital daily-life issues,” Abbas said.

Rice earlier Sunday had talks with Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad after talks late Saturday with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. She was due later Sunday to see Livni, and hold a joint news conference with her.

The two-day visit aims at giving another push to the peace talks between the two sides amid US scepticism that the negotiations, launched at a US-hosted conference in November, will not succeed in achieving framework agreement for two states this year.

Rice, who is preparing for President George W. Bush’s trip to the region later this month, said she would urge Israel to refrain from undermining the Palestinian Authority and its security forces.

Rice Friday attended a top-level London meeting of representatives of the so-called Middle East Quartet which urged Arab states to honour aid pledges made to the Palestinians.

It also appealed to all sides to make “every effort” to reach a peace settlement by the end of this year. Rice warned Israel and the Palestinians do not have “unlimited time” to achieve a peace deal.

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