"We will make an effort to hold speedy negotiations in the hope we may conclude by the end of 2008, but certainly there is no commitment for a firm timetable for their completion," Ehud Olmert said at a cabinet meeting on Sunday.
Launching the first formal peace talks in seven years at the Middle East conference in the American city of Annapolis last week, Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, agreed to try to reach a deal on creating a Palestinian state by the end of next year.
Speaking at the first cabinet meeting since Annapolis, however, Olmert urged caution.
In an apparent hint to right-wing coalition partners that he was not planning concessions without a reciprocal move from the Palestinians, Olmert said any progress on peace would depend on adhering to commitments under a stalled US peace "road map".
"The most important thing in the joint statement is that ... any agreement that we reach in the future will be dependent on completion of all road map commitments.
"In other words, Israel will not have to implement any commitment which emanates from the agreement before all the road map commitments have been met," he said.
UN draft withdrawn
Olmert's comments came after the US withdrew a draft United Nations resolution endorsing action agreed to at Annapolis.
Although Israel apparently had no problems with the uncontroversial text, it said a resolution was inappropriate.
|The Israeli defence minister has authorised |
more military action in Gaza [AFP]
Analysts suggested it was worried a formal resolution would get the UN too involved in Middle East conflict resolution efforts.
The 2003 US road map provides benchmarks that include a freeze of Jewish settlement activity in the West Bank, occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East war, as well as a Palestinian crackdown on armed groups.
Both sides accuse the other of not meeting those benchmarks.
Israel has said it will release about 430 Palestinian prisoners on Monday as part of efforts to bolster Abbas against political rivals Hamas which seized the Gaza Strip in June and rejected the Annapolis talks and agreement.
On Sunday, Israeli artillery fire killed one Palestinian fighter and wounded five others in the Gaza Strip, Hamas said.
Hours earlier, three Israeli soldiers were injured by a mortar.
The Israeli military confirmed that it had fired on "suspicious silhouettes approaching the security barrier" and that three of its soldiers "were lightly wounded … by a mortar round fired from the Gaza Strip".
Israel regularly launches raids into Gaza to try to stop rockets from being fired at Israeli towns and said on Sunday it had stepped up attacks in the coastal strip in the past week.
|Israel reduced fuel supplies to Gaza last |
month, leaving petrol stations closed [AFP]
A statement said Ehud Barak, the defence minister, had told ministers he had authorised more military action in Gaza, including the targeting of "manned military Hamas targets".
Barak said Israel had killed 22 fighters in the past week.
Israel also reduced the amount of fuel allowed into the coastal strip last month.
The move - which Israeli said was in response to the rocket salvoes - has left most Gaza petrol stations closed and brought traffic almost to a halt.
Mahmoud al-Khuzundar, the chairman of the society of petrol company owners, said on Sunday that "cooking gas will run out within days and cars will stop within hours".