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US Urges Mideast Peace Talks Despite Israeli Pessimism


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U.S. special envoy for Middle East Peace, George Mitchell is calling for an early re-launch of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The envoy has begun meetings with officials in Israel and the Palestinian territories. The gaps Mitchell is trying to bridge are growing wider as Palestinian leaders call for resistance and Israel says there is no chance of peace anytime soon.

U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell arrived in Israel as tensions simmered between Palestinians and Israelis over access to the Temple Mount, or Noble Sanctuary, compound in Jerusalem that houses sites holy to both Jews and Muslims.

Palestinian leaders are calling on Muslims to turn out in large numbers for Friday prayers at the al-Aqsa mosque in the compound. The call is an apparent challenge to Israel, which has brought in thousands of additional police to prevent clashes like the ones that have broken out sporadically in the city during the past two weeks.

Mitchell told Israeli officials on Thursday that the White House will continue to press on with efforts to restart negotiations that have been stalled for 10 months.

"President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton and the U.S. government remain deeply and firmly committed to achieving comprehensive peace in the region," Mitchell said. "We believe there is no alternative to that if all the people of the region are to be able to live in peace and prosperity, and be able to achieve their aspirations. That means peace between Israel and Palestinians, between Israel and Syria, Israel and Lebanon, and the full acceptance of Israel and normalization of relations with all of its neighbors in the region."

Mitchell said he realizes that forging peace will be difficult.

"I received a lot of advice when I accepted this position," Mitchell said. "Not one of them ever showed me that it would be easy and free of difficulty or problems. So that's to be expected. And we're going to continue with our efforts to achieve an early re-launch of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians because we believe that's an essential step toward achieving the comprehensive peace to which I earlier referred."

Israel offered less hope of an early resolution to the conflict, when Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Israeli radio Thursday that there is no chance of peace anytime soon.

Lieberman said that anyone who says it is possible to reach a comprehensive peace agreement in the coming years simply does not understand reality and is spreading illusions.

Israel has insisted it will allow for continued but limited growth of its settlements in the occupied West Bank and claim sovereignty over all of Jerusalem - part of which the Palestinians claim as the capital of their future state. The Palestinians have said they will not return to negotiations until there is a settlement freeze.

A spokesman for the ruling Palestinian Fatah faction says the group called for a general strike in Jerusalem and the West Bank on Friday.

Mitchell met with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Lieberman on Thursday. On Friday, his schedule includes meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

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