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Quartet to ask Israelis, Palestinians to meet in days

Oct. 9, 2011 9:21 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 30, 2011 5:04 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The Middle East Quartet will invite Israelis and Palestinians to meet in "coming days," envoys said on Sunday after convening in Brussels to discuss their plan to revive negotiations.

Quartet representative Tony Blair said Sunday's meeting "showed the Quartet's commitment to the timetable for talks set out in our September statement," according to a press statement from the group.

The diplomat Quartet -- including the European Union, Russia, US and UN -- proposed on Sept. 23 a return to talks within 30 days, proposals on substantive issues in three months and a peace deal by the end of 2012.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the group will be "contacting the Parties to invite them to meet in the coming days."

"I believe we have made good progress and will keep in close contact with Quartet partners and colleagues in the region with view to meet and move things forward," she said following the meeting, the statement said.

Blair added: "We look forward to meeting with the parties shortly. This provides us with the opportunity to explore grounds for revived negotiations to take place."

The meeting of envoys in Brussels aimed to review progress and keep up momentum in the diplomatic group's bid to revive stalled peace negotiations, a EU spokesman said prior to the summit, according to Israeli news site Ynet.

The Quartet bid aimed to overcome obstacles to negotiations, after Israel refused to renew a partial settlement-building freeze in September 2010, nixing talks brokered by the US just a few weeks after their relaunch.

Officials aired the plan as President Mahmoud Abbas handed to the UN Palestine's bid for full membership as an independent state, a move opposed by Israel and which the US has vowed to veto at the Security Council, which is tasked with admitting new members.

It did not stipulate that Israel halt building Jewish-only settlements on Palestinian lands, which Palestinian officials say is necessary for the viability of a Palestinian state.

"The Palestinian leadership stresses clearly that it cannot accept holding negotiations that lack the minimum limits of responsibility and seriousness amid the continuation of settlements and stealing of land," PLO official Yasser Abed Rabbo said at the time.

Israel had welcomed the Quartet proposal, but added it had "some concerns" about the plan, without giving details.

Since the Quartet announcement, Israel approved plans to expand East Jerusalem settlements Gilo and Pisgat Zeev. Palestinian Authority officials said on Sunday that the move undermined the Middle East Quartet's proposal for talks.

"The Quartet must tell Israel that it cannot pretend to accept its initiative while flagrantly breaching its terms," a PA statement said.

In response to Ashton's statement, Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for Abbas, said that if Israel "recognizes the 1967 borders and freezes settlements, we are ready to go immediately" to talks the EU seeks to convene.

In Jerusalem, an Israeli official contacted by Reuters would not comment on the planned invitation, but suggested Israel would be ready to attend if no conditions were attached.

Reuters contributed to this report
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