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Israeli, Palestinian Negotiators Meet Before Bush Visit

Senior Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met two days before a visit to the region by U.S. President George Bush. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will meet Tuesday in an effort to move the Mideast peace process forward. VOA's Jim Teeple reports from Jerusalem, Israel's prime minister and the Palestinian president are scheduled to hold talks Tuesday.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni held talks with chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Quriea, but the meeting got off to a bad start after Israeli officials stopped Mr. Quriea, also known as Abu Ala, as he was crossing from Jordan into the West Bank - a delay he said was politically motivated.

Israel apologized for the incident. The meeting went ahead with the two sides forming working groups that will deal with specific negotiating issues as the two sides proceed with peace talks later this year.

Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are scheduled to meet Tuesday, just a day before President Bush begins his visit to the region.

Mahdi Abdel Hadi, who heads the Palestinian policy group PASSIA says the two men are trying to reach agreement on some issues before they meet with Mr. Bush later this week.

"This meeting comes not as rescheduling the agenda but testing the waters, will they go angry and frustrated to their meeting with President Bush or will they come with something mutually agreed upon," said Hadi.

Since they agreed to restart negotiations at the Annapolis peace conference last November, the two sides have found little common ground. Israeli officials have accused Palestinians of not doing enough to control militant activity in the West Bank, and have voiced frustration and anger at continuing rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip which is under the control of Hamas militants.

The Palestinians have sharply criticized Israeli plans to build hundreds of new homes in East Jerusalem which Israel captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. Israel's Prime Minister Olmert has pledged to dismantle West Bank outposts constructed since 2001, but Israeli officials say current construction activity in East Jerusalem will not be affected by that decision.