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Israeli and Palestinian Leaders Try to Narrow Differences


Israeli and Palestinian leaders have held a summit meeting in a bid to push the peace process forward. But while there are signs of progress, deep divisions remain. Robert Berger reports from the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas tried to narrow differences over Palestinian statehood during three hours of talks in Jerusalem. They agreed to set up negotiating teams to work on key issues of disagreement.

The two leaders are trying to hammer out a declaration of principles to be presented at an international peace conference in the United States expected to take place in November.

Israel is also considering a prisoner release as a goodwill gesture to Mr. Abbas during the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

"We want the Palestinian people to understand that moderation pays, that non-violence pays, that negotiation brings much more than terrorism ever would," said Israeli spokesman Mark Regev.

The two leaders have been meeting regularly since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in June, routing the forces of the rival Fatah faction led by Mr. Abbas. Israel wants to strengthen the moderate Abbas government in the West Bank while isolating Hamas in Gaza.

But the Palestinians want Israel to go beyond general declarations and to nail down the details for establishment of a Palestinian state. Nimer Hamad is an aide to Mr. Abbas.

Israel has made promises, Hamad said, but we want things in writing.

Israel says it is premature to make commitments on thorny issues such as Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, and final borders.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will try to bridge the gaps when she visits here next week.