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Saturday Feb. 6, 2010 5:59 PM (EST+7)
Abbas awaits US clarification over peace talks offer

Read more: Mahmoud Abbas, US, peace process, negotiations

CAIRO, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Saturday he had asked the United States to clarify its offer to mediate indirect peace talks with Israel before he would announce any decision to resume the negotiations.

'Yesterday I met with an American delegation and we held an Egyptian, Jordanian and Palestinian trilateral meeting,' Abbas said after talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo.

'We asked the Americans some questions and they will come back to us ... then we will announce our position,' he said.

An Israeli cabinet minister, echoing comments made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said this week that Israel and the Palestinians would begin 'proximity talks', with a US mediator shuttling between negotiating teams, to restart negotiations that broke down at the start of a war in Gaza in December 2008.

Palestinian officials did not confirm those remarks, but pointed out that U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell had made more than a dozen visits to the region to try to revive the long-stalled peace talks.

Abbas has said he will only return to negotiations if Israel completely stops settlement-building in the occupied West Bank. He has rejected a limited, 10-month construction freeze ordered by Israel in November as insufficient.

Israel has said it will continue to build homes for Jews in and around East Jerusalem, territory it captured in a 1967 war and annexed as part of its capital in a move not recognised internationally.

Palestinians want the city as the capital of a future state.

Also hindering progress in peace talks is a divide in the Palestinian territories, with Abbas's mandate limited to the West Bank since his Fatah faction was ousted from the Gaza Strip by Hamas Islamists in a 2007 civil war.

Abbas said in Cairo there was no connection between resuming talks with Israel and reconciling the internal Palestinian divide.

'Everything is moving on and we do not prefer one issue over another,' he said.

Egypt, a US ally which in 1979 became the first Arab state to sign a peace deal with Israel, has acted as a mediator in the Arab-Israeli conflict and has been trying to broker a unity deal between the rival Palestinian factions.

The groups last met in July in Cairo, and Egypt has since increased pressure on Hamas by building an underground barrier along its border with Gaza to block tunnels that bring Palestinians weapons and commercial goods denied them by an Israeli-led blockade. (Reporting and writing by Yasmine Saleh; editing by Andrew Roche)







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