Officials from the Palestinian Authority, Israel as well as U.S. representatives held an unannounced meeting in the West Bank, the Palestinian Ma'an news agency reported on Tuesday, as the upcoming expiration of a moratorium on settlement building was expected to disrupt the recently relaunched peace talks.
A 10-month settlement freeze, which covers the West Bank excluding East Jerusalem, is due to expire on September 26 and has proved itself to be the major sticking point in new peace talks that began in Washington at the start of the month.
Sources speaking with Ma'an on Tuesday said that at least one PA minister attended the meeting in the West Bank city of Nablus, amid tight security, as well as Israeli and U.S. officials.
On Wednesday, U.S. special Middle East envoy George Mitchell indicated that peace talks between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders were being conducted more seriously and faster than the ones he brokered in Northern Ireland in the 1990s.
Mitchell particularly noted progress regarding the construction freeze in the West Bank settlements. Associates of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, were quick to qualify Mitchell's enthusiasm, saying Netanyahu stressed at the meeting Wednesday that the moratorium that is set to expire on September 26 would not be extended.
The meeting, held at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, was attended by Netanyahu, Mitchell, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The leaders of the negotiating teams, Isaac Molho and Saeb Erekat, joined the two-hour meeting from time to time.
Tempering Mitchell's apparent optimism was Abbas, who told AFP Monday that negotiations will continue as long as the settlement remains frozen," but stipulated "I am not prepared to negotiate an agreement for a single day more."
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