May 27, 2009 - 12:00am

PALESTINIAN president Mahmud Abbas on Tuesday stressed his willingness to reach a peace agreement with Israel, on the eve of a visit to Washington where he hopes to obtain support for the stalled Middle East peace process.


'We hope the Israelis will understand that we are working hard to achieve peace and that we will do everything we can to reach that goal,' President Abbas said at a ceremony marking the opening of a new Palestinian representative office in Ottawa.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ignored calls from the United States for a complete freeze on settlement building in the occupied West Bank and rejected limits on building Jewish enclaves in Jerusalem.

But Israeli media said on Tuesday that Prime Minister Netanyahu is willing to tear down settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank in return for US backing on its stance on arch-foe Iran.

President Abbas, who is to hold his first White House meeting with President Obama on Thursday, said on Monday that Israel's refusal to stop building settlements in the occupied West Bank would be a main talking-point of his trip to Washington.

The Palestinian authority has ruled out restarting peace talks with Israel unless it removes all roadblocks and freezes settlement activity in the occupied West Bank, top negotiator Mr Ahmad Qorei told the Haaretz daily.

He was referring to settlements in the occupied West Bank built without authorization from the Israeli government and the more than 600 barriers that Israel erected in the aftermath of the second Palestinian intifada that severely hamper freedom of movement in the occupied West Bank.

President Abbas will present the conditions during his first White House meeting with US President Barack Obama on Thursday, Mr Qorei said.

The chief negotiator also reiterated the Palestinians' refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state as demanded by the right-wing Israeli president as part of a final agreement. -- AFP


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