WASHINGTON, July 9 (Reuters) - US President Barack Obama kept up his push to revive direct Middle East talks as he spoke to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
on Friday about ways to advance the fragile peace process
Obama talked by telephone to Abbas three days after the US leader met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
at the White House and agreed to speed up efforts to upgrade from indirect US-mediated talks to face-to-face negotiations.
Palestinian leaders remain wary because of Israeli settlement
activity on land they want for an independent state and what they see as a insufficient progress in slow-moving proximity talks.
Seeking to reassure Abbas and nudge him toward direct talks suspended since 2008, the White House said Obama praised the Palestinian leader for his commitment to peace.
He and President Abbas reviewed ways to advance to direct talks in the near term, in order to reach an agreement that ends the conflict, and establishes an independent and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel, the White House said.
Obama cited positive momentum from what the White House described as improvement on the ground in the West Bank
and Gaza Strip
, progress in proximity talks and restraint shown recently by both sides.
Israel has eased its land blockade of Hamas
-ruled Gaza since facing international condemnation over a deadly raid on an aid flotilla
on May 31.
Obama told Abbas he was sending his Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, back to the region soon to broker a new round of talks to build on this momentum, the White House said.
Offering his first suggestion of a timetable to step up negotiations, Obama said on Tuesday he hoped direct discussions would get going well before a 10-month Israeli moratorium on new housing construction in West Bank settlements expires in September.
There are strong doubts the Palestinians will be willing to join face-to-face talks without at least a promise of extending the partial freeze on settlements on occupied land.
Netanyahu, speaking in New York on Thursday, signaled he was not prepared to give ground on the issue. He has, however, pledged concrete steps to help spur the peace process, but has offered no specifics. (Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Peter Cooney)