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Last Updated: Friday, 24 March 2006, 13:33 GMT
Abbas 'moots secret peace talks'
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas
Israel questions whether Mahmoud Abbas can deliver on negotiations
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has proposed secret peace talks with Israel, a leading Israeli paper has quoted him as saying.

Mr Abbas suggested the idea in talks with US officials and former Israeli PM Shimon Peres, Haaretz says.

He told the paper he was convinced that a peace agreement could be signed within a year of such talks starting.

Mr Abbas said any negotiations would be conducted by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

Mr Abbas is head of the PLO and president of the Palestinian Authority.

We are in a historic period in which we must decide whether we will move toward peace and a better future for our children - I can promise you that you have a partner for this peace
Mahmoud Abbas

The next Palestinian government will be led by the militant group Hamas, which won legislative elections in January.

Israel has vowed not to deal with any Palestinian government that includes Hamas, and has called Mr Abbas irrelevant following Hamas' election victory.

Hamas does not recognise Israel and the groups constitution calls for its destruction.

In other comments to Haaretz, Mr Abbas said any unilateral move by Israel to establish permanent borders would not bring peace.

Israel responded to the comments by casting doubt on Mr Abbas' ability to lead any negotiations.

"Real political power in the Palestinian Authority is no longer in the hands of Mr Abbas and his colleagues, but has been transferred to Hamas," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev.

Correspondents say that there is currently no Middle East peace process to speak of.

Though it is officially endorsed by Palestinians and Israelis, the US-backed Middle East roadmap is essentially defunct.

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