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Israelis, Palestinians to continue peace talks

Xinhua | Updated: 2013-08-09 14:37

WASHINGTON - The Israelis and Palestinians will start their second and third rounds of peace talks after they resumed the talks in Washington late July, which had broken down in 2010 due to an expansion of Jewish settlement activities on occupied Palestinian lands.

The two sides will have their second round of peace talks in Jerusalem on August 14 and then a third in Jericho of the West Bank, the US State Department said on Thursday.

"Negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians will be resuming on August 14 in Jerusalem, and will be followed by a meeting in Jericho," spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters at a daily press briefing.

She said US peace envoy Martin Indyk and his deputy Frank Lowenstein will travel to the region to "help facilitate" the negotiations, and Secretary of State John Kerry will not make any announcement after the talks.

The Palestinians and Israelis agreed to meet further to discuss all the final status issues -- Jerusalem, security, the Jewish settlements, borders and refugees, after their chief negotiators met late last month in Washington for two-day initial talks.

Kerry said after the initial talks that the United States and the parties seek to "achieve a final-status agreement over the course of the next nine months" through direct negotiations.

The last direct talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas lasted only three weeks before they fell apart in September 2010 over squabbles on settlement building in the West Bank.

After months of intensive US mediation, the Palestinians and Israelis finally restarted in Washington their peace talks, for which the US has proposed a nine-month deadline for them to reach a permanent peace agreement to end their decades-long conflicts.

US President Barack Obama on Monday hailed the resumed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks as "a promising step forward", but acknowledged "hard work and hard choices" ahead.

In the talks, the Palestinians demand a complete cessation of Jewish settlement construction on their lands occupied by Israel, the latter's recognition of a future Palestinian state in accordance with pre-1967 borders and the release of prisoners arrested before the 1993 Oslo accords were signed.

The Gaza Strip, the West Bank and east Jerusalem, were occupied by Israel during the six-day Arab-Israeli war in June 1967. Israel pulled out from Gaza in 2005 and evacuated around 20 settlements. The enclave was seized by Hamas who routed forces loyal to Abbas in 2007.

Israeli cabinet had approved the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners who were locked up prior to the Oslo Accords in 1993 before the two sides resumed the peace talks in Washington late July.

Hani Habib, a Gaza political analyst, told Xinhua that the ongoing negotiations "have nothing to do with the Gaza Strip".

"If we assume that Israel ends its military occupation of the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the frame of a permanent peace agreement after nine months of talks, the fate of the Gaza Strip will remain undecided because Hamas opposes any peace agreement," said Habib.

The Palestinians in Gaza voiced their concerns that Hamas, which adopts an extreme ideology toward reconciliation with Fatah, may be an obstacle in the establishment of a future independent Palestinian state.

The Gazan people, impoverished by the Israeli siege, do not believe that the current peace talks, which are sponsored by Israel's ally, the United States, will lead to a permanent agreement within nine months.

According to the observers, Hamas, one offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, is facing troubles after the global group was stripped off power in Egypt in early July when the military ousted President Mohamed Morsi.

The only thing that Hamas still believes in is its armed resistance against Israel. It opposes the resumption of the talks because its leaders fear that any permanent peace deal would certainly end its resistance movement.

Sami Abu Zurhi, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, told Xinhua that the current talks "are giving the Israeli occupation more excuses to keep swallowing our land and uproot our people".

"The resumption of talks is a violation of the Palestinian national consensus... There has to be a strategy agreed upon by all Palestinian political powers and factions," said Abu Zuhri, opposing the unilateral decision by Abbas to "undermine" the Palestinian cause.

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