2 Oct 2010

Middle East talks salvage attempts continue

10:25 pm on 2 October 2010

US and European diplomats are continuing efforts to salvage the faltering Middle East peace talks.

EU foreign policy chief Baroness Ashton met Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad in the occupied West Bank, before going to Jerusalem to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

US envoy George Mitchell was scheduled to make the reverse journey.

The Palestinians say they will quit the talks unless Israel extends a partial freeze on settlement building.

A freeze on construction expired on Sunday.

Direct peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinian were resumed in Washington in September after a 20-month hiatus.

The US administration has not been able to persuade Israel to extend its partial moratorium.

Israel has occupied the West Bank since the Middle East war of 1967, settling some 500,000 Jews in more than 100 settlements which are held to be illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this. About 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank.

Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, has urged Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to withdraw from the talks.

Mr Mitchell and Mr Abbas held two hours of talks in Ramallah on Thursday.