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Abbas-Olmert meeting serious and in-depth: Erekat
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08:19, August 29, 2007

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Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said Tuesday that the meeting between President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert earlier the day in Jerusalem was serious and in-depth.

Erekat, a long-time confident of Abbas, made his remarks at a news conference held in this West Bank city after the meeting.

But the talks between the two leaders "haven't reached the level of negotiating substantial final status issues such as refugees, borders or Jerusalem," he said.

While in a first indication that the sides were addressing such "core issues" in many years, a senior Israeli official said that the meeting at Olmert's residence were discussing "Jerusalem, refugees and borders."

One proposal being discussed would see the Old City of Jerusalem's Temple Mount, or Harem al-Sharif compound, a site holy to both Judaism and Islam, come under the control of the three monotheistic religions, Israel Radio quoted the official as saying.

The two sides were also debating Palestinian control over the Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem, said the official, who spoke to the Radio on condition of anonymity.

If the teams proved able to bridge their differences, the issues would be discussed at a higher level, said the official.

Erekat denied reports saying that Abbas and Olmert had discussed the question of establishing a Palestinian state with temporary borders. "This subject wasn't on the agenda of the meeting and it can't be directly or indirectly debated," he said.

Erekat reiterated that the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) has not handed Israel any written draft-paper, and "in return the authority (PNA) hasn't received any written paper."

"We are not in the stage of inventing a new process simply because all the substantial issues are known and specific. We are now in the stage of decision making and not in the stage of holding new negotiations," said Erekat.

It was the second face-to-face meeting of the two leaders this month. They last met in the West Bank city of Jericho on Aug. 6.

Asked about the international peace conference slated for this fall in the United States, Erekat said that until now Abbas hadn't received any invitation to attend the conference.

"I don't think there is any of the sides received an invitation to attend the conference; but from our side, we expressed a desire in comprehensive peace and wished Syria and Lebanon be invited," said Erekat.

Erekat said that "the Israeli military offensives, the prisoners and the deportees issues" were also discussed during the meeting.

"President Abbas warned of a humanitarian and economical disaster in the Gaza Strip if crossing points are keeping closed and if exports and imports are stopped," said Erekat.

Since Hamas overran Abbas' Fatah militants and seized control of the strip in mid-June, the coastal enclave has been facing a deeper humanitarian crisis and becoming more isolated from the world after all crossings and passages were shut down by Israel for more than two months.

The Gaza Strip, with a total population of about 1.5 million, heavily depends on outside aid inflow of almost everything, from basic foodstuffs to medicine.

Olmert and Abbas are due to meet again two or three times before holding the international peace conference, Erekat added.

Israeli media reported that the two leaders are expected to meet again before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year holiday which will fall on Sept. 13.

On July 16, U.S. President George W. Bush proposed that an international conference would be held this fall, which would include Israel, the Palestinians, and some neighboring Arab states, to help resume the stalled Middle East peace talks.

Source: Xinhua

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