Israeli-PNA peace talks resume

Updated: 2007-12-12 20:18

About 75 acres (30 hectares )of olive trees and orange groves were uprooted, greenhouses and the outer walls of homes were damaged, and homes were left without power, said Ouda Alomar, mayor of the community. Repair crews were trying to restore electricity and reopen roads that were closed with dirt mounds put up by the troops, he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert convened his security Cabinet, a group of top political and defense officials, to discuss the Gaza situation. Officials decided to continue the police of brief incursions into Gaza, but decided against launching a broad invasion of the area.

One Cabinet member,speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said officials are concerned that a broad invasion would cause heavy casualties to Israeli troops and damage the prospects for peace talks.

Wednesday's negotiations were to be the first since Israel and the Palestinians formally relaunched peacemaking at an international conference last month in the United States. Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas set an ambitious target of December 2008 - near the end of US President George W. Bush's tenure - to conclude a peace deal.

The last round of talks crumbled in early 2001, shortly after the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising. Since then, more than 4,400 Palestinians and 1,100 Israelis have been killed.

Negotiators are expected to quickly move to issues that have buried past talks - West Bank settlements, borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state, sovereignty over disputed Jerusalem and a solution for Palestinian refugees.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, the chief negotiators of the two sides, were expected to lead Wednesday's talks. Abbas and Olmert weren't scheduled to attend, though the men, who speak regularly, are expected to meet soon.

While the issues at the heart of the conflict haven't changed, conditions may be better now for fruitful talks.

Opinion polls show that majorities on both sides want a peace settlement. Negotiators say a failure could strengthen rising Islamic extremism in the region, and US and Arab backing for peace moves - absent for years - is providing an important push.

But obstacles remain. Both leaders face domestic troubles, making it tough for them to offer concessions.

Israeli hawks are determined to bring down a peacemaking government, and Abbas now controls only the West Bank, having lost control of the Gaza Strip to Hamas. The Islamic group is committed to Israel's destruction and allows Gaza militants to fire rockets and mortar shells at southern Israel almost daily.

In Washington, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said he hoped the talks would move past procedure. "I think the expectation that they had set out was that this was going to be more of an organizational kind of get-together," he said.

Mideast envoy Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, said an agreement is possible, but "it needs the most intensive focus from the international community and from the United States."

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