Bush and Olmert hold final meeting

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Bush and Olmert hold final meeting

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America and Israel’s outgoing leaders have met in Washington for a final encounter marked by their failure to secure a Middle East peace agreement.

US president George W Bush had hoped to clinch a deal before the end of his mandate in less than two months’ time.

“Thank you for your steadfast support for peace. It’s not easy, it’s not easy to try to change the paradigm, and I understand that,” he told Israeli premier Ehud Olmert.

Olmert is expected to step down in February, putting an end to a tenure marred by scandal.

“As you say, a two-state solution is the only possible way to resolve the conflict in the Middle East,” Olmert told Bush.

The prospects for peace remain at best unclear, with Israel heading for an election and Palestinians deeply divided between their president, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Islamist Hamas movement.

In Hamas-controlled Gaza there were demonstrations on Monday against a crippling blockade by Israel.

It closed its borders three weeks ago, cutting off food and fuel supplies, after discovering what it said was a tunnel aimed at kidnapping Israeli soldiers.