Olmert holds confidential meeting with Abbas in Jerusalem

By Xinhua,

Jerusalem : Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met on Sunday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Jerusalem for the second time in one week, ahead of Abbas’ upcoming visit to Washington.

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The two held the meeting privately for about an hour, without the negotiation teams. The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office didn’t release a statement regarding the meeting’s results.

The two leaders discussed different issues raised in the diplomatic negotiations between the two sides, which will be presented to U.S. President George W. Bush by Abbas later in the week, according to the website of local daily Yedioth Ahronoth.

The White House has been exerting moderate pressure on the Israelis and the Palestinians to speed up the negotiations in order to reach an agreement on principles by the end of 2008, a goal set at a U.S.-hosted peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland last November when long-stalled negotiations between the two sides were revived.

It was reported that U.S. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley will visit Jerusalem and Ramallah in the coming days. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to visit the region once again after the Jewish holiday of Passover, while Bush is scheduled to land in the Jewish state on May 14.

Last week, the two leaders met for the first time since February 19 as Abbas suspended the talks in protest to an Israeli military operation in Gaza during which 130 Palestinians were killed.

The two sides agreed during the meeting to continue talks and pledged to reach a comprehensive agreement by the end of 2008.

However, Palestinians have been concerned over Israeli settlement construction and humanitarian issues in West Bank and Gaza Strip, while Israel raised its security concerns and urged the Palestinians to rein in militants.

The ongoing construction of Jewish settlements was the main issue raised by the Palestinian representatives, which senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said “occupied a large part of the negotiations.”