US envoy in new talks with Palestinian president

Ramallah–US envoy George Mitchell and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday held their first meeting since indirect peace negotiations with Israel were launched earlier this month.

“We gave Americans letters about the situation on the ground, including the murders in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip committed by the occupation against the Palestinian people,” Erakat told journalists after the meeting.

In recent days, a Palestinian teenager was shot dead in the West Bank, allegedly by an Israeli settler, and army gunfire killed an elderly farmer in the Gaza Strip, near the Israeli border.

The letters also address “the numerous Israeli provocative statements of the last few days,” Erakat said, in reference to statements by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other officials that Israeli settlement construction would continue in annexed Arab east Jerusalem.

Following the meeting with Abbas in the West Bank’s political capital Ramallah, Mitchell headed to east Jerusalem with Erakat for further consultations.

“Our discussions with Mitchell revolve around all the final status issues and we will focus on the questions of borders and security during the four months of proximity talks,” Erakat said.

Final status issues refer to the core disputes in the decades-old conflict such as the fate of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.

Mitchell plans to shuttle between Washington, Jerusalem and Ramallah as part of the so-called proximity talks launched on May 9.

He met Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Tuesday and planned to hold talks with hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday.

The indirect negotiations were first agreed in March but the initiative collapsed within days when Israel announced plans to build 1,600 settler homes in east Jerusalem.

The Palestinians eventually agreed to enter the talks after receiving US assurances that the project would be frozen.

Jerusalem and Jewish settlements are among the thorniest issues in efforts to achieve a peace deal.

Israel, which captured east Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed it in a move not recognized by the international community, considers the Holy City its “eternal and indivisible” capital, while the Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their promised state.

The last round of direct negotiations between the two sides collapsed in December 2008 when Israel launched a devastating war on the Gaza Strip in a bid to halt Palestinian rocket fire aimed at Israeli towns.

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