Page last updated at 17:58 GMT, Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Hillary Clinton wants Middle East talks to start soon

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton wants to see talks start very soon

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the US wants to see a quick resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

"We think its absolutely essential that they begin to talk about the issues that divide them," she told a US congressional committee.

A row over Israel's claim on two biblical shrines has seemingly driven the two sides further apart this week.

US-backed attempts to mediate talks have also stalled in recent months.

Visits to the region by US envoy George Mitchell have so far not been successful.

US President Barack Obama has even said his administration had "overestimated" its own ability to bring the two sides to the table.


Palestinians have demanded a stop to settlement building.

Israel has agreed to a 10-month lull in building, excluding East Jerusalem, where the Palestinians want the capital of their future state.

But this has not been sufficient for the Palestinians, who have balked at Israeli demands that they recognise Israel as a Jewish state, that a future Palestinian state be demilitarised, and that Israel retain control of an "undivided" Jerusalem.

Israel's claim earlier this week that two shrines in the West Bank were Israeli heritage resulted in swift condemnation from the Palestinians, with the President of the Palestinain Authority Mahmoud Abbas saying the claim "could spark war".

The Israeli government has said they intend to include the Tomb of Rachel and the Tomb of the Patriarchs, known to Muslims as the al-Ibrahimi mosque, in a restoration project and access to Muslims would not be affected.

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