As the second round of Israeli-Palestinians peace talks wrapped up in Sharm e-Sheikh on Tuesday, US Mideast envoy George Mitchell offered no evidence of progress on the issue of West Bank settlements.

At a news conference after talks between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas — mediated by US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mitchell said that the talks were moving in the right direction.

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Following Mitchell's positive comments, Netanyahu delayed his scheduled departure from Sharm e-Sheikh on Tuesday afternoon by a few hours to continue the day's talks.

The talks were very serious and touched on all the issues that were meant to be discussed between the two parties said Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Israel Radio reported.

A breakthrough cannot be expected after two meetings, explained Aboul Gheit. The recognition of Israel as a Jewish state was brought up and the foreign minister expressed hope that the matter will not bring further obstacles which will hamper negotiations. 

Aboul Gheit added that the subject of a Palestinian state would be based on setting boundaries and reaching an agreement in which each side will be able to do as it wishes within its set borders.

Also on Tuesday afternoon, it was announced that Mitchell was due to visit Syria in the coming days.

According to Reuters, a US official said: "He will stay in the region and visit Syria after the Secretary (Clinton) returns to the US."

Clinton had pressed Israel to extend a moratorium on new building in West Bank settlements, but when asked at his news conference whether there had been progress on this issue, Mitchell did not answer directly. Instead, he said he and Clinton believe the talks are moving in the right direction "overall."

A determination to make the peace talks work was expressed by Israeli officials accompanying Netanyahu to Sharm e-Sheikh earlier Tuesday.

A senior official reacted to Palestinian threats to bolt the talks should Israel refuse to extend the settlement building moratorium saying, "We are going there looking for something else, it's not an all or nothing proposition."

The official pointed out that if Israelis and Palestinians are not able to find a compromise solution on this matter, then how will it be possible for them to overcome more difficult issues later in the negotiations.

"Israel is looking for ways not to 'blow up' the talks and to help make them work," said the official.


According to members of Netanyahu's negotiating team, the agenda for day's talks has been set by Clinton.

During her flight from Washington to Egypt, Clinton told reporters that the "time is ripe" for Mideast peace, but that without face-to-face talks Israel can't expect lasting security and the Palestinians can't create an independent state.

Clinton said the Obama administration believes Israel should extend the construction moratorium, but she also said it would take an effort by both sides to find a way around the problem.

"We recognize that an agreement that could be forged between the Israelis and the Palestinians ... that would enable the negotiations to continue is in the best interests of both sides," she said.

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