Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met late Monday in Jerusalem. As VOA's Jim Teeple reports, the meeting took place as Israel announced it will release 441 Palestinian prisoners in a bid to support Mr. Abbas' moderate Palestinian government.
Mr. Olmert and Mr. Abbas held what is expected to be their last meeting before they meet again next week in Annapolis, Maryland, in the first formal peace conference between Israelis and Palestinians in seven years. The two men exchanged new proposals, and their negotiating teams continued the talks.
No public statements followed Monday's meeting. A spokesman for Mr. Abbas described the meeting as serious and difficult. Mr. Olmert's spokeswoman said progress was made.
Earlier, Mr. Olmert's cabinet approved his request to release 441 Palestinian prisoners. Mr. Olmert also said his government will not build new settlements in the West Bank, and will begin dismantling illegal outposts that have been built by Israeli settlers.
The Israeli prime minister says he expects intensive negotiations to start after the Annapolis conference. He says those talks will deal with core issues such as borders, the future of Jerusalem and the status of refugees.
For his part President Abbas said Monday that Palestinians will continue talks with Israelis to try and make the Annapolis conference meaningful.
Mr. Abbas says Palestinians hope to reach agreement that will let them attend the conference on what he described as a solid basis.
While he has pledged not to build new settlements in the West Bank, Mr. Olmert made no mention of an American request to freeze all construction in existing settlements - something Palestinian negotiators are demanding. They also criticized Monday's prisoner release, saying Israel should release 2,000 prisoners. About 10,000 Palestinians are currently in Israeli jails.
Israeli officials say they are committed to the 2003 Roadmap peace plan which calls for Israel to stop settlement construction in the West Bank, but also for Palestinians to stop attacks against Israelis. The roadmap plan is supposed to result in the eventual creation of a Palestinian state.