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US to Hold Israel, Palestinians 'Accountable' for any Undermining of Talks

The Obama administration says it will hold Israel and the Palestinians accountable if they do anything to seriously undermine trust in a new series of indirect peace talks.

In a statement Sunday, U.S. State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said the two sides have completed the first round of those talks, ending a 17-month break in negotiations.

U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell mediated the talks by shuttling between Israeli officials in Jerusalem and Palestinian officials in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Crowley described the talks as serious and wide-ranging. He said both Israel and the Palestinians have made commitments to create a positive atmosphere for the talks, but did not elaborate.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu called for the indirect talks to transition quickly to direct negotiations. He told his Cabinet Sunday that peace cannot be made from a distance or by remote control, as he put it.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has insisted he will not enter direct talks until Israel stops all building of homes for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, lands Israel occupied after the 1967 Mideast war.

Israel has frozen new housing starts in the West Bank since last November for a 10-month period, but has refused to stop building homes for Jews in East Jerusalem, which it claims as part of its "eternal" capital. Palestinians want it as their capital for a future state.

Palestinians have said they want indirect talks to focus on core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including borders of a future Palestinian state and the status of Jerusalem.

Members of the Palestinian militant group Hamas that runs the Gaza Strip denounced Mr. Abbas' government, saying indirect talks with Israel will provide cover for Israeli settlement activity.

Mr. Abbas' government broke off direct negotiations with Israel in December 2008 when Israeli forces launched an offensive in the Gaza Strip to stop rocket fire by Hamas on Israeli towns.