Agence France Presse (AFP)
April 7, 2008 - 5:38pm

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas meet on Monday for the first time in six weeks as Middle East peace talks get back on track under heavy US pressure.

Abbas, who suspended his bi-weekly meetings with Olmert at the beginning of March after an Israeli military operation in Gaza killed more than 130 people, said on Sunday that he would not accept a peace deal at any price.

"We are negotiating seriously and we are striving to arrive at a solution for all the final-status issues, but it will not come at any price," Abbas told a meeting of local officials in the West Bank political capital of Ramallah.

The talks were given new impetus after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, during a visit to the region last week, managed to secure an Israeli commitment to ease hardships on West Bank Palestinians and convince Abbas to resume his meetings with Olmert.

Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said Abbas and Olmert would discuss a mutual ceasefire, lifting the Israeli siege on the Gaza Strip and the implementation of the 2003 Middle East roadmap agreement.

The international roadmap peace blueprint urges Israel to freeze Jewish settlement construction and calls on the Palestinians to improve security in their territories.

But the latest peace talks have made little progress since they were launched at a US-sponsored conference in Annapolis outside Washington in November, with each side accusing the other of neglecting its obligations.

Israel has "not implemented a single one of its obligations as specified in the roadmap. It has not halted the (growth of) settlements or freed prisoners or removed checkpoints," negotiator Erakat told AFP.

An Israeli official said Olmert, who last met with Abbas on February 19, was "looking forward to the renewal of talks."

"We want the Annapolis process to succeed and the meetings between the leaders will continue focusing on the crucial elements of the peace talks," the official said on condition of anonymity.

The two leaders are expected to discuss several of the core issues at the heart of the conflict, but the sides remain divided on many issues.

Olmert said last month that he does not envisage the possibility of anything more than an outline agreement by 2009, despite the US target of a peace deal by the end of 2008, and that settlement expansion on Palestinian land would continue.

Abbas has in turn accused Israel of splitting the Palestinian territories into isolated cantons as a means to prevent the creation of a viable Palestinian state.


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