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Israel Hopes for Breakthrough in Mideast Talks

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak says Israel is hoping for a "breakthrough" when it resumes direct peace talks with the Palestinians next week.

A government statement Tuesday quoted Barak as telling Middle East envoy Tony Blair that "courageous decisions" are needed from both sides.

The statement says Barak met with Blair Tuesday in Tel Aviv, telling him Israel is prepared to make "courageous" decisions, while safeguarding its interests. He added that Israel hopes the Palestinians will also find the strength to do so.

The Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are scheduled to resume September 2 in Washington.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has warned U.S. President Barack Obama that Palestinians will pull out of the peace talks if Israel decides not to continue its slowdown of settlement construction in the West Bank.

Speaking at an academic conference in Israel on Tuesday, Blair dismissed skepticism of Israel's willingness to reach a settlement with the Palestinians.

He said he thinks that if Israel can receive what he described as "real and effective" guarantees about its security, then it will be "willing and ready" to conclude the U.S.-sponsored negotiations.

Blair has been assisting U.S. efforts to restart peace talks as the special representative for the Middle East Quartet, made up of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.