US Middle East envoy returns for peace talks

May 18, 2010 12:00 am

, JERUSALEM, May 18 – US Middle East envoy George Mitchell returns to the region on Tuesday for the first time since indirect peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians were launched on May 9, officials said.

Mitchell will meet Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak at his Tel Aviv home on Tuesday evening, Barak\’s office said. On Wednesday he is due to meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Also on Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met his forum of seven senior ministers to prepare for the visit of the envoy, Israeli officials said. Netanyahu was to meet Mitchell in Jerusalem on Thursday.

Mitchell left the region a week ago after convincing Israel and the Palestinians to launch an initial round of US-mediated "proximity talks."

The indirect negotiations were first agreed on in March but the initiative collapsed within days when Israel announced plans to build 1,600 settler homes in annexed east Jerusalem during a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden.

The Palestinians eventually agreed to 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, 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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