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Arab leaders give U.S. another month to revive Mideast peace talks

SIRTE, Libya — Arab ministers agreed Friday to give the United States another month to try to persuade Israel to renew curbs on West Bank settlement construction and keep Mideast peace talks from collapsing.

The one-month grace period followed a frantic effort by the Obama administration to broker a compromise as the sides faced rising friction over the stalemate. Underscoring the potential for violence, Israeli troops killed two senior Hamas militants in the West Bank.

The Palestinians have said they won't return to the negotiating table unless Israel renews its moratorium on new construction in West Bank settlements, which expired last week after 10 months. Israel has refused to resinstate the moratorium, though it is considering compromises.

"The Israeli government was given the choice between peace and settlements, and it has chosen settlements," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said. "It (Israel) alone bears the responsibility for this."

Foreign ministers from the 22-member Arab League warned Israel of the dangerous consequences of continuing settlement construction in the Palestinian territories and east Jerusalem — lands the Palestinians claim for a future state.

"We support the Palestinian president's position calling for a complete halt of all settlement activities in order to resume negotiation," the Arab League's deputy Ahmad Bin Helli said as he read a statement issued after the ministerial meeting.

But the ministers also said they would resume meetings in a month to study alternatives and decide on next steps, giving the United States some breathing room.

The Israeli government had no immediate comment.

Direct U.S.-backed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians began on Sept. 2, following several months of indirect contacts, then stalled over the settlement dispute.

Aides have said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wants to avoid the impression that he is quitting talks, and instead sought to buy more time for U.S. diplomacy. "The U.S. effort should continue to safeguard what remains of the peace process," senior Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh said.

The two Hamas gunmen, killed in a raid in the West Bank city of Hebron, were involved in the shooting deaths of four Israelis near the city on Aug. 31, just as new Israeli-Palestinian peace talks were getting underway, the Israeli military said.

Arab leaders give U.S. another month to revive Mideast peace talks 10/08/10 [Last modified: Friday, October 8, 2010 11:44pm]

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