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Israeli, Palestinian Leaders Discuss Core Issues of Mideast Conflict

Israeli and Palestinian leaders held a summit meeting in Jerusalem aimed at giving a boost to the peace process. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, both sides are reporting progress.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas discussed core issues of the Middle East conflict, including the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, and final borders.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said the goal is the creation of a Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel.

"Both leaders, Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas, are committed to a vision of two states. Important ground was covered today on the political issues, the economic issues and other issues and we are moving forward," Regev said.

The two leaders hope to present a framework for a peace agreement at an international conference in the United States this autumn.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says it is time to make hard decisions that will lead to the end of the Israeli occupation.

"The only way to revive hope in the minds of Palestinians and Israelis is through a meaningful peace process," Erekat said.

Ties between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas have improved since the violent takeover of the Gaza Strip by the Islamic militant group Hamas two months ago. Hamas routed the forces of the rival Fatah faction led by Mr. Abbas, who now heads a moderate government in the West Bank.

Both Israel and the U.S. want to strengthen the Abbas government, while isolating the Hamas regime in Gaza.

But Hamas, which seeks Israel's destruction, appears determined to play the spoiler. Hamas officials said any negotiations that do not include the group are doomed to failure.