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Olmert, Abbas agree to start talks
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Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed on Tuesday to instruct their negotiating teams to start talking about core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict according to a "three-level" model.


"The two leaders decided to allow negotiating teams to conduct direct talks on all core issues," Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev said, adding, "We expect the process will begin shortly."


The three-level model is comprised of talks on the following levels: firstly, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and head of the Palestinian negotiations team Ahmed Qureia will discuss the core issues in a direct dialogue. The negotiating teams will then discuss the issues in detail. In case of a disagreement, Abbas and Olmert will intervene.


According to a report by local daily Ha'aretz on Sunday, negotiations over the core issues - refugees, Jerusalem and borders - will begin after Bush's visit to the region this week, while the remaining issues will be discussed in other committees.


Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced earlier this week that he would quit the government and pull Israel Beiteinu out of the coalition once core issues - refugees, Jerusalem and borders - were raised for negotiation.


Olmert and Abbas reached the agreement during their meeting on Tuesday, a day ahead of an upcoming visit by U.S. President George W. Bush to the region.


Bush is due to visit Israel and the West Bank on Wednesday and Thursday as part of a regional tour that will cover seven countries in nine days, during which the U.S. president is expected to press Israel and Palestinians to accelerate their recently revived peace talks.


Israel and the Palestinians pledged to strive for a final-status agreement within a year during the U.S.-hosted Annapolis conference in late November, but talks between the two sides have been low-key with no evident progress.


The sense of an impasse intensified following contentious meetings regarding continued Israeli construction of settlements in east Jerusalem.


(Xinhua News Agency January 9, 2008)

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