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Arab nations back indirect peace talks between Palestinians, Israelis

CAIRO — Arab nations on Saturday endorsed indirect peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis, a move that likely paves the way for the start of long-stalled U.S.-brokered negotiations.

The United States has proposed the talks to end the impasse between Israelis and Palestinians over the conditions for resuming negotiations, which broke down more than a year ago amid Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

The green light from Arab foreign ministers comes after a first attempt to get indirect talks going collapsed in March when Israel announced a new Jewish housing project in East Jerusalem.

The Israeli decision enraged Palestinians, who claim East Jerusalem as a future capital, and drew fierce criticism from the United States. It also led to the worst rift in years between the United States and Israel, Washington's closest Mideast ally.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has signaled that he is willing to resume negotiations, but has been waiting for approval from Arab countries, which would provide Abbas the political cover he needs to return to talks.

Arab League chief Amr Moussa stressed Saturday that the league would keep a close eye on the talks, and said there will be no transition from indirect to direct negotiations. Arabs want a total freeze in settlement building before returning to direct talks.

The Arab foreign ministers warned that peace efforts would collapse if Israel continued to build settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

They also said they wouldn't endorse an extension on the four-month window they originally gave the talks in March, a decision that leaves the United States only two months to make headway in the shuttle negotiations.

Abbas told reporters on Saturday that he will visit Washington this month for talks with U.S. officials "to push the peace process forward."

On Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the talks would start this week, and U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell is expected back in the region soon. He is expected to ferry proposals back and forth between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Arab nations back indirect peace talks between Palestinians, Israelis 05/01/10 [Last modified: Saturday, May 1, 2010 9:57pm]

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