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Last Updated: Monday, 5 November 2007, 13:09 GMT
Abbas optimism for Mid-East talks
Condoleezza Rice (l) and Mahmoud Abbas (r)
Mr Abbas spoke of encouraging signs from Israel and the US
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has said he believes there is a "real possibility" of achieving a peace deal with Israel.

Progress was being made towards a US-sponsored Middle East peace conference expected later this year, Mr Abbas said.

Mr Abbas was speaking after talks with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Ms Rice also met chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Ramallah.

Mr Abbas and Ms Rice on Monday expressed hope that a peace deal could be reached before US President George W Bush leaves office in January 2009.

Mr Abbas said that had received encouraging signs from both Israel and the US, but that he still expected negotiations to be tough.

I agree with [Israeli] Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that there is a real possibility to achieve peace
Mahmoud Abbas,
Palestinian Authority President

Ms Rice said she hoped that the planned conference would serve as a "launching pad" for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations leading the way to a Palestinian state.

Israelis and Palestinians have been trying to agree a joint document as a basis for talks at the conference.

Palestinians have expressed frustration at the lack of progress in these talks.

They want a clear timetable for resolving some of the most sensitive issues in the conflict, including the status of Jerusalem and the borders of a Palestinian state.

Israel has rejected written deadlines, saying the whole process can be damaged if they are missed.

'Two states'

After meetings on Sunday with Israeli officials, Ms Rice said a two-state solution was now needed more urgently than ever.

Ms Rice also urged Arab states to accept a peaceful and permanent home for Israel.

She said on Sunday that she was not yet ready to set a date for the conference.

If we do not act now to show the Palestinians a way forward, others will show them a way forward. Failure is simply not an option
Condoleezza Rice,
US Secretary of State

Speaking at an event in Jerusalem, also attended by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and international envoy, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, Ms Rice said the US would continue to work for a peaceful settlement in the region.

Ms Rice held separate talks with Mr Olmert and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

At a joint press conference Ms Livni said that security for Israel had to come first before any deal could be reached.

Israel has been concerned about the takeover of Gaza in June by the militant Islamist movement Hamas, which does not recognise the state of Israel and is branded a terrorist organisation by Israel, the US and the EU.

Low expectations

Ms Rice is on her eighth visit to the region this year, hoping to inject life into the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. But expectations of her visit and the Maryland conference are low.

The former Palestinian Prime Minister, Ismail Haniya of Hamas, on Sunday urged President Abbas not to attend the Maryland conference.

In a speech in Gaza City, he said the meeting would not be in the Palestinians' interests and would have detrimental repercussions for the whole region.

Mr Haniya and Hamas have not been invited to the US-led talks.

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