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Palestinian Negotiator Reports Progress in Talks With Israel

A senior Palestinian official says there is serious progress in new peace talks with Israel. But as Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, the Islamic militant group Hamas could sabotage the process.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says his side is close to an agreement with Israel on a document on Palestinian statehood. The document would be presented at an international peace conference in the United States this year.

At the same time, he said it is not a done deal.

"And nothing will be agreed until everything is agreed," said Erekat.

Interviewed on Israel's Channel 10 television, Erekat said that western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have narrowed the gaps in a series of meetings. But he said President Bush should not convene the peace conference unless there is an agreement in advance.

"I really doubt the Americans will issue the invitation if decisions are not made by President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert," said Erekat.

Palestinian President Abbas is from the more moderate Fatah group that heads a government in the West Bank.

The negotiations have brought a stern warning from the Islamic militant group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh warned Mr. Abbas not to "fall into a trap" and make concessions on Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees or territory.

Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel or renounce violence, routed the Fatah forces led by Mr. Abbas in a Gaza civil war four months ago.

Israel has sought to strengthen Mr. Abbas while isolating Hamas. But Israeli spokesman Mark Regev fears Hamas could launch a new wave of terror as negotiations move forward.

"No one has any illusions that Hamas will do whatever it can to torpedo this process of reconciliation between us and the Palestinians," said Regev.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hopes to give peace talks a boost when she arrives here this weekend for a new round of shuttle diplomacy.