Page last updated at 17:58 GMT, Sunday, 7 March 2010

Palestinians back new indirect Israel peace talks

President Mahmoud Abbas chairs a meeting of the PLO executive committee
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas chaired the PLO executive meeting

Palestinian leaders in the West Bank have backed a new round of indirect peace talks with Israel, more than a year after negotiations broke down.

The Palestine Liberation Organisation endorsed the move, already backed by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Arab foreign ministers, Israel and the US.

But PLO leaders said they doubted the talks would get anywhere, and that they should be limited to four months.

A top official said the talks should focus on where to draw state borders.

Palestinian leaders have previously demanded a complete halt to Israeli settlement building on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, before they would resume talks.

Israel has only enforced a partial curb on building, so the Palestinian move represents something of a climbdown, says the BBC's Jon Donnison in the West Bank.

He adds that the move is likely to be criticised by Hamas, who are in control of the Gaza Strip and are not part of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, an umbrella group for Palestinians.

'Unlikely to succeed'

The talks will be mediated by the United States, whose negotiators will shuttle between Israeli and Palestinian delegations. It is not clear when they will start.

Face-to-face talks remain some way off, says our correspondent.

The attempt to restart what are known as "proximity talks" has been driven by the US, whose envoy, former US Senator George Mitchell, has visited the Middle East many times in the past year.

Peace talks broke down after the Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip between December 2008 and January 2009.

The Israeli government welcomed the resumption of talks when the proposal won the backing of the Arab foreign ministers earlier in the week.

But senior Palestinians are sceptical that Israel will make significant concessions to their demands.

"We think it's unlikely that these indirect negotiations with the [Benjamin] Netanyahu government will succeed," said Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior official from Fatah, the ruling party in the West Bank.

"But we want to give an opportunity to the US administration to continue its efforts," he added.

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