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Israeli, Palestinian Leaders Recommit to Peace at Summit

By Robert Berger
07 April 2008

Israeli and Palestinian leaders tried to advance the Middle East process during talks in Jerusalem Monday. We have more from Robert Berger at our VOA bureau in the Israeli capital.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hosted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for three hours at his residence in Jerusalem. It was their first meeting since Mr. Abbas suspended peace talks five weeks ago in response to an Israeli military incursion in the Gaza Strip.

More than 120 Palestinians were killed in the offensive, about half of them militants and the rest civilians.

The two leaders agreed to put that episode behind them and get the peace process back on track.

"We are all committed to the goal of trying to reach a historic agreement with the Palestinians by the end of this year. That is the central focus," said Mark Regev, Mr. Olmert's spokesman.

But each side accused the other of failing to keep its commitments under the internationally backed "Roadmap" peace plan. Mr. Olmert charged that the Palestinians have not done enough to crack down on militant groups, while Mr. Abbas complained about Jewish-settlement expansion.

The United States and Palestinians say Israeli plans to build hundreds of new apartments in disputed East Jerusalem and the West Bank violates the roadmap which calls for a settlement freeze.

"At the end of the day, settlements and peace are two parallel tracks. Israel cannot have settlements and peace at the same time," said negotiator Saeb Erekat, speaking for the Palestinians.

Settlement expansion and daily Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza have soured the atmosphere, putting the goal of a peace agreement by the end of the year in doubt.

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