Mid-East indirect talks get going

George Mitchell with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas 9.5.10

Indirect peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have begun, the Palestinian chief negotiator has said.

Saeb Erekat spoke after a meeting between US Middle East envoy George Mitchell and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr Mitchell will now shuttle between the two sides, with hopes that direct talks can start within four months.

The start of talks in March was halted after a row over the building of new Israeli homes in East Jerusalem.

Palestinians broke off direct peace talks after Israel launched a military offensive on Gaza in late 2008.

"The proximity talks have started," Mr Erekat said in the West Bank city of Ramallah, with Mr Mitchell standing beside him.

Mr Mitchell will shuttle between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to try to narrow their differences.

He has already held several meetings with Mr Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the past week.

Mr Netanyahu said on Sunday that he hoped the indirect talks would quickly move to direct negotiations.

"Peace cannot be brought about from a distance, or with a remote control," he said.

The talks went ahead a day after receiving the backing of leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

The PLO’s Executive Committee decided to back the talks after a three-hour meeting in the West Bank.

Palestinians pulled out of talks in March after Israeli municipal authorities approved plans for new homes in the East Jerusalem settlement of Ramat Shlomo.

The announcement was made during a visit to Israel by US Vice-President Joe Biden and caused great strain in Israeli-US relations.

The Palestinian Authority’s formal position is that it will not enter direct talks unless Israel completely halts building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In November, Israel announced a 10-month suspension of new building in the West Bank, under intense US pressure.

But it considers areas within the Jerusalem municipality as its territory and thus not subject to the restrictions.

Israel has occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, since 1967. It insists Jerusalem will remain its undivided capital, although Palestinians want to establish their capital in the east of the city.

Nearly half a million Jews live in more than 100 settlements in the West Bank, among a Palestinian population of about 2.5 million.

The settlements are illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

This article is from the BBC News website. © British Broadcasting Corporation, The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

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