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Rice to discuss Mideast talks with Israel, Palestine leaders

Tel Aviv, Sep 18 (RIA Novosti) US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is visiting Jerusalem and the West Bank to prepare for a Washington-proposed international conference on the Middle East peace process.

The Bush administration has proposed holding a conference in the US in November this year to discuss problems holding back peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and to pave the way for the creation of a unified Palestinian state.

Key issues standing in the way of the successful resolution of the six-decade-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict are the eventual borders between Israel and a newly independent Palestinian state, control over the disputed part of Jerusalem, and the fate of millions of Palestinian refugees.

During her two-day visit that began Tuesday, Rice will hold brief meetings with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, along with other senior Israeli government officials.

Prospects of a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians were dealt a heavy blow in June, when Islamist group Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by Israel, seized control of the Gaza Strip in a violent coup, leaving Abbas and his Fatah forces in control of only the West Bank.

The Israeli prime minister said Sunday that the conflicting sides could sign a joint declaration of intent at the November conference, rather than a more binding agreement on conflict settlement principles, which Palestinian authorities are pushing for.

So far, the US proposal has met with resistance from Washington’s traditional allies in the Arab League, who have expressed their uncertainty about the possible outcome of the conference. Most Arab states would like to see a framework agreement put in place prior to the meeting.

Amr Moussa, the head of the Arab League, said last Thursday that none of the 22 members of the regional organization would participate in the US-proposed conference until its goals have been clarified.

Hamas said in a document released Monday that the peace conference would inevitably fail unless national unity was restored in the Palestinian territories.

“Any talks with Israel would only exacerbate the situation in the region if unity is not restored,” the document said.