U.S. President Barack Obama's point man in the Middle East begins a new peace mission Saturday amid rare signs of progress.

After more than a year of shuttling between Israel and the Palestinians, U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell is on the verge of a breakthrough. The parties are expected to begin indirect peace talks that will continue for four months.

The peace process deadlocked last year, when the Palestinians refused to return to the negotiating table until Israel would freeze all settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Palestinians rejected Israel's offer of a partial freeze. But the United States' proposal of indirect talks has provided a way out of the impasse.

"We would like to a see a peace, we would like to see a process. We want peace and also are ready to take very difficult steps with very painful concessions," said Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.
Negotiations based on the formula of land for peace began in 1991; and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad says the process has dragged on way too long.

"And if we are to really learn from the past. I think it's really time to get down to it and get on with it, and really address the issues that really need to be addressed," he said.

Israeli and Palestinian officials say the four months of indirect talks will focus on security arrangements and the future borders of a Palestinian state. If there is progress, it could clear the way for direct talks on the most intractable issues of the conflict: the status of Jerusalem and the future of Palestinian refugees.

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