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Israeli, Palestinian Leaders Agree to Future West Bank Meeting


Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met Sunday in Jerusalem - holding the first of what are supposed to be regular meetings every two weeks. VOA's Jim Teeple reports the two made no major breakthroughs but did agree to hold their next meeting in the occupied West Bank.

Fulfilling a pledge they made to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her visit to the region last month, Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas discussed what their aides described as a "political horizon" for the region - focusing on economic issues.

Before Sunday's meeting Mr. Olmert said he would limit his discussions to humanitarian issues and would not talk about issues such as the borders of a future Palestinian state, refugees or the future status of Jerusalem. Mr. Olmert told his cabinet Sunday he would like to encourage a Saudi Arabian-sponsored effort adopted by the Arab League in 2002 to bring about a diplomatic settlement to the Arab-Israeli dispute.

The Israeli prime minister says he would like to meet with Arab diplomatic representatives to discuss the plan, which involves Arab diplomatic recognition of Israel in exchange for Israel's withdrawal to its 1967 borders and a "just" solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees.

Aides to both men say their next meeting will take place in the occupied West Bank, probably in the city of Jericho. Saeb Erekat a close aide to Mr. Abbas says Sunday's talks were in his words "frank" but also just a beginning.

Erekat says for the first time in nearly six years, Israeli and Palestinian leaders discussed something more than day-to-day issues -- saying President Abbas called on the Israelis to ease checkpoints in the West Bank and open the Gaza border with Egypt. He also says the two men discussed a possible prisoner swap of hundreds of jailed Palestinians -- in exchange for the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit who was seized last year by Palestinian militants on the Gaza border.

Israeli officials say a list of prisoners the Palestinian government wants released is unacceptable because too many on the list are responsible for terrorist attacks against Israelis.

Aides to Mr. Olmert say he pledged to look into reopening Gaza's border with Egypt, and to also expand the operating hours of the major cargo crossing point between the Gaza Strip and Israel.

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