Israel to host post-Annapolis talks

Palestinian leaders to attend, despite calls for boycott over settlement expansion.

    Israel's recent military incursion into the Gaza Strip has cast a pall over the peace process [AFP]

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    Marwan Bargouthi speaks out on the peace talks

    Arye Mekel, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, said the meeting would "jump start" peace talks.
     
    He said the two sides would discuss the possibility of setting up negotiating subgroups and the pace of talks.
     
    "It is the first step. The meeting will probably be relatively short and procedural," Mekel said.
     
    Calls for boycott
     
    Some Palestinian officials called for a boycott of the meeting after Israel issued a tender for about 300 new homes near Jerusalem on land it annexed - a move not internationally recognised - during the 1967 Middle East war.
     
    But Palestinian leaders plan to attend the meeting and press Israel for a freeze on settlements.
     

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    "I don't see how we can have two tracks, a negotiation track and a settlement expansion track," said Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian negotiator.
     
    "The expansion of settlements was the story of previous governments and we are in the same boring movie again."
     
    Israel pledged at the Annapolis meeting in November to end settlement activity, but maintains that the building plan, which provoked outrage from Palestinians and rare criticism from Washington, is legal.
     
    Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, said on Monday she hoped the building plan would not "cloud" peace talks.
     
    The start of the building on Har Homa, known to the Palestinians as Abu Ghneim, just north of Bethlehem, in 1997 led to a collapse in final peace talks at that time.
     
    Gaza incursion
     
    Palestinians have also accused Israel of attempting to sabotage the peace process after a military operation in Gaza killed at least six Palestinians and left 15 wounded.
     
    In depth

    The incident on Monday was Israel's largest incursion into the Gaza Strip since Hamas seized control of the territory in June.
     
    A spokesman for Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, described the incursion as a "heinous crime" that undermined the peace process.
     
    Israel sought to play down the incident, which saw tanks and bulldozers move more than 2km into the enclave, as a routine operation "against the terror infrastructure" in Gaza.
     
    Israeli forces reportedly withdrew later in the day.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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