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Palestinians Threaten to Pull Out of Peace Talks


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says his faction will pull out of peace talks with the Israelis - set to resume next week - if Israel does not extend a freeze on construction in West Bank settlements that is set to expire September 26.

The warning from the Palestinian leader came in letters to President Barack Obama, as well as to the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia - all members of the Quartet group that is working to mediate peace in the region.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told reporters in the West Bank town of Ramallah there are clear setbacks in sight before the U.S.-mediated talks begin next week in Washington.

He said that if the Israelis decide not to extend the freeze of construction in settlements after September 26, it means that the Palestinians will not be able to continue talks.

Ten months ago, Israel imposed the temporary ban on the building of new homes inside West Bank settlements, partly in response to U.S. pressure.

The Palestinians oppose the existence of the settlements because they are on land where they intend to have a Palestinian state.

Speaking on Israeli radio, Deputy Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom accused Palestinian leaders of creating excuses to make the negotiations fail before they start.

He said Israel should make it clear that it is going into direct negotiations without any further conditions and without preconditions. The Israeli official said Israel should be able to make decisions freely, without threats from the Palestinians.

But the Israeli government said it has yet to decide whether it will extend the freeze. The question has put a dilemma before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's governing coalition, which includes right-wing parties that oppose a slowdown in construction in West Bank settlements.

The talks - set to resume on September 2 - are the first direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians in 20 months. In announcing them last Friday, the Obama administration said it aims to have a peace agreement within a year.

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