Direct talks on Mideast peace in Jerusalem

Wednesday 14 August 2013 23.19
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Freed Palestinian prisoner Salah al-Sahair kisses his mother following his return to Gaza
Freed Palestinian prisoner Salah al-Sahair kisses his mother following his return to Gaza
Yaakov (R) and Miriam, parents of Lior Tobul, who was killed by Palestinian militants in 1990, hold up pictures of him before a court hearing to protest the government's decision to release Palestinian prisoners
Yaakov (R) and Miriam, parents of Lior Tobul, who was killed by Palestinian militants in 1990, hold up pictures of him before a court hearing to protest the government's decision to release Palestinian prisoners

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have reconvened US-brokered peace talks in Jerusalem amid little fanfare and low expectations.

The talks have been dogged by plans for more Jewish settler homes on occupied land.

The resumption of negotiations followed Palestinian celebrations overnight as Israel released 26 prisoners.

Preliminary talks in Washington last month ended a three-year stand-off over Jewish settlement building.

Optimism was in short supply before the first official meeting in Jerusalem in nearly five years.

The session expected to focus on setting an agenda for the talks.

"Israel will resort to feints and evasion and put up impossible demands in order to say that these negotiations are fruitless and to continue its policy of stealing land as it has done until this moment," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior Palestinian official tasked by President Mahmoud Abbas to comment on the talks.

Israel has published plans for 3,100 new settler homes in recent days, drawing US and other international concern and deepening Palestinian distrust.

Tzipi Livni, Israel's chief peace negotiator and justice minister, said on her Facebook page before the teams met: "Today, I will continue the important mission I began - to achieve a peace agreement that will keep the country Jewish and democratic and provide security ... for Israel and its citizens."

Hoping to avoid any public wrangling in the talks on peace and the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, officials have said few details would be released.

Israeli cabinet minister Yaakov Peri said a "long and exhausting trek" lay ahead.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has set a goal of nine months for an agreement to be reached.

"Both for the Palestinians and for us, the hourglass is running out. We will not have many more opportunities to resolve this dispute," Mr Peri told Army Radio.

In the small hours of today, Israel freed 26 Palestinians jailed between 1985 and 2001, many for deadly attacks on Israelis.

Their release, coupled with Mr Abbas's dropping of a demand for a settlement freeze before talks could begin, helped to pave the way towards negotiations.

Few on either side see swift resolution to longstanding problems such as borders, settlements, the status of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.

Yet neither Mr Abbas nor Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to attract blame for putting the brakes on US attempts at peace, a product of Mr Kerry's intensive shuttle diplomacy.

Negotiations are set to continue every few weeks in venues including Jericho in the occupied West Bank.