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Obama Urges Israel, Palestinians to Talk, Set Aside Disputes

U.S. President Barack Obama has called on Israelis and Palestinians to begin peace talks on core issues of their conflict without waiting for those disputes to be resolved in advance.

Mr. Obama made the appeal Thursday at a joint news conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, the latest stop of his first presidential visit to Israel and the West Bank.

Mr. Obama said "there is no point of negotiations" if either of the parties expect that direct talks can be held only when "everything is settled ahead of time."

Mr. Abbas has repeatedly insisted that he will not enter negotiations until Israel stops settlement activity in the West Bank and building homes in East Jerusalem, two areas he claims for a Palestinian state. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has long called for Mr. Abbas to resume direct talks without preconditions.

In the news conference, Mr. Abbas repeated his view that Israeli settlement activity is illegal. He said his government is ready to implement all of its international commitments to resolve the conflict with a two-state solution comprising "Palestine and Israel."

Mr. Abbas also said he is serious about achieving Palestinian reconciliation - a reference to his long running efforts to end a rift with Islamist militant group Hamas which ousted his forces from the Gaza Strip in 2007.

Earlier Thursday, Israeli police said militants in Hamas-ruled Gaza fired two rockets into southern Israel, damaging the yard of a house but causing no injuries.

Later in the day, Mr. Obama is due to return to Jerusalem for an official dinner at the home of Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Mr. Obama said Wednesday after arriving in Israel that he wants to speak directly to the Israeli people and their neighbors about his belief that "peace must come to the holy land."

On Friday, his schedule includes talks with King Abdullah in Jordan, where the United States has been helping authorities to cope with a flood of refugees from the Syrian civil war.

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