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Israel, PLO to hold peace talks with US envoy

April 17, 2014 11:00 A.M. (Updated: April 19, 2014 4:13 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were to hold a meeting Thursday with US envoy Martin Indyk, in a bid to find a way to extend faltering peace talks.

The meeting had been put off by a day, with Israel implying the delay was due to the killing of an Israeli police officer in the West Bank.

But the Palestinians said it was to enable the participation of US envoy Martin Indyk.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met on their own on Sunday and held a three-way meeting with Indyk a week ago, in last-ditch efforts to save the stagnant peace process, launched by US Secretary of State John Kerry in July for a period of nine months.

Washington was pushing for an extension of talks beyond their April 29 deadline, but negotiations hit an impasse two weeks ago when Israel refused to release a group of Palestinian prisoners as agreed at the launch of talks.

The Palestinians retaliated by seeking accession to several international treaties.

Despite the crisis, President Mahmoud Abbas's spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina stressed the talks could be extended if Israel released the 26 prisoners, the last batch of a total of 104 veteran prisoners Israel agreed to free.

"What's needed now is Israel's commitment on issues that could lead to an extension of talks. If they commit, we're ready," he said on Wednesday.

And Abbas told Israeli opposition MKs visiting him in Ramallah he would insist that 14 Palestinian-Israelis were among those released, according to Haaretz newspaper.

The report said if talks were extended, Abbas would want the first three months to be "devoted to a serious discussion of borders."

The peace process has since last week suffered a new blow when Israel said it would freeze the transfer of duties it collects on the Palestinians' behalf, in retaliation for their diplomatic action against Israel at the United Nations.

Israel's government has announced the construction of thousands of settler housing units and its army has killed over 60 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza since the negotiations began.

Most Palestinian political factions, with the exception of Fatah, held demonstrations in July last year to protest a return to negotiations with Israel.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report
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