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Negotiator says Mitchell denied US guarantees

Sept. 30, 2010 7:45 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 2, 2010 8:46 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- A member of the PLO negotiating team said Thursday that US envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell denied reports in the Israeli media that the US had offered Israel guarantees in exchange for freezing settlements.

Israel's Hebrew language daily Maariv reported Wednesday that US President Barack Obama sent a letter of guarantees to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in bid to save direct peace talks from collapse.

The guarantees were reportedly in exchange for an immediate halt to settlement construction and dealt with issues around Israeli security negotiated between Israel defense minister and head of the Israeli negotiating team during visits to the US.

According to the report, Obama committed the US administration to providing Israel with upgraded weapons if a final solution to the conflict is reached. The US would also veto any attempt by Arab nations to present the Palestinian issue to the UN Security Council for one year, and prevent Palestinian negotiators from setting settlements as the central condition to a peace agreement, the report said.

But PLO negotiator and Fatah leader Nabil Sha'ath said Mitchell denied the report.

"Mitchell's denial came during the meeting with President Abbas, and he affirmed there are no such US guarantees concerning this issue," Sha'ath told the Nazareth-based radio station Shams.

Israel's return to building settlements in the occupied territories has cast the future of peace talks into question following a brief return to negotiations following a 20-month hiatus sparked by Israel's assault on Gaza in December 2008.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton was scheduled to meet with Mitchell shortly after her arrival to the region on Thursday and speak with Abbas the day after. Informed sources told Ma'an that Abbas would sit with Mitchell for a second set of discussions Friday.

Palestinian leaders have made clear in public that they will not compromise on demands, made even before talks began on 2 September, that continued settlement construction on lands intended for a Palestinian state under a two-state solution would not be acceptable.

While Netanyahu said he hoped talks would continue, he has not agreed to halt construction despite reports that the US offered the package of incentives to get the peace process back on track. Netanyahu met with Mitchell on Wednesday.

Abbas said he would discuss continuing talks at an Arab League meeting next week.
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