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Mideast peace talks face major obstacles

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 Mideast peace talks face major obstacles
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Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are meeting today for a second round of US-backed peace talks bogged down by disputes over Jewish settlement-building near Jerusalem. The Palestinians want Israel to commit to halting all settlement activity which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas describes as a key issue in the negotiations:

“Regarding negotiations, you know that we are negotiating but there are obstacles, the most prominent obstacle is the issue of settlement activity which we will stand against and will continue to oppose at every opportunity. We can not understand why this ongoing settlement activity is continuing at a time when we are talking about final status negotiations.”

Abbas is expected to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as early as Tuesday to follow up on last month’s Annapolis conference in which the leaders set the goal of negotiating a statehood agreement before US President George Bush leaves office in just over a year’s time.

Israel plans to build hundreds of new homes in areas near Jerusalem known to Israelis as Har Homa and Maale Adumin.

The Palestinians accuse Israel of ignoring its obligations under the road-map peace plan which explicitly calls for a halt to all settlement activity, including so-called “natural growth.”

Israel says it will meet its obligations by not allowing outward growth of existing settlements.