A Palestinian official told AFP on Saturday that President Shimon Peres met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas four times in recent months in a bid to resume Middle East peace negotiations.

The Palestinian official said that a fifth meeting was scheduled to take place between the two leaders in Amman two weeks ago but was cancelled when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded that Peres not meet Abbas.

According to the official, the contents of the discussions between Peres and Abbas were forwarded to Netanyahu.

In late July, Haaretz reported that Peres had been holding intensive talks with Ramallah in an effort to restart peace talks and head off a unilateral Palestinian statehood bid at the UN in September.

On Saturday evening, Netanyahu's office released a statement calling the decision by Abbas to seek recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations in September an "expected but regrettable step."

"[Abbas] has apparently decided to avoid direct negotiations with Prime Minister Netanyahu," the statement read. Netanyahu "still believes that only direct and real negotiations - not unilateral decisions - can advance the peace process."

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said earlier on Saturday that Abbas will personally present the Palestinian bid for full UN membership to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon at the opening of the General Assembly session in New York on September 20.