Signs of movement seen in stalled Mideast process

Ramallah, West Bank – Hints of possible movement in the deadlocked Middle East process have emerged in talks between the leaders of Egypt and Israel, a senior Palestinian official said on Wednesday, without giving details.

Palestinian media in the Israeli-occupied West Bank fronted remarks by Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "is moving forward."

Netanyahu met Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Tuesday.

"I cannot speak about details of Netanyahu’s position. But the Israeli prime minister spoke during the talks about positions that go beyond, in our estimate, what we have heard from the Israeli side in a long time," Abul Gheit said.

"I cannot say that a settlement is closer. I cannot say whether Netanyahu has come to Egypt to change his positions … but he is moving forward."

In the West Bank, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Reuters there would be movement in the near future.

"The region will see important political activity in the next two weeks," said Nabil Abu Rdainah. "The Israeli position is not yet clear enough to the point of re-starting negotiations."

Talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been frozen for the past 12 months. Abbas refuses to relaunch them until Netanyahu stops all West Bank settlement building and makes clear his terms of reference for resuming the negotiations.

The East Jerusalem Arabic daily Al Quds said Netanyahu had "requested that the elements of his ideas not be discussed" for the time being.

 The United States, whose envoy George Mitchell has been shuttling between the two sides with no concrete signs of progress for the past year, was still working on ways of reviving direct dialogue, it said.

Abbas was due to return to his government capital, Ramallah, on Thursday and deliver a speech marking the 45th anniversary of the foundation of his Fatah movement.

He was due to embark on a tour of Arab capitals including Cairo immediately afterwards.

On his return to Jerusalem on Wednesday, Netanyahu told members of his Likud party "the time has come to renew the peace process" — a statement he has made repeatedly in recent weeks in appeals to Abbas to return to the negotiating table.

Abbas so far refuses, saying the partial, 10-month restrictions on Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank which Netanyahu ordered on November 25 do not meet the bottom-line demand of the Palestinian side.

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