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Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday that he hoped his talks with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Jericho would advance negotiations on the establishment of a Palestinian state forward.
"I came here in order to discuss with you the fundamental issues outstanding between Israel and the Palestinian Authority hoping that this will lead us soon into negotiations about the creation of a Palestinian state," he said at the start of the talks, with Abbas standing by his side.
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The Palestinians hope the two leaders will sketch the outlines of a final peace deal, to be presented to the US-sponsered Mideast conference, said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.
The four core issues of a future peace deal are the final borders of a Palestinian state, a division of Jerusalem, a removal of Jewish settlements and the fate of Palestinian refugees.
"What they need to do is to establish the parameters for solving all these issues," Erekat said. "Once the parameters are established, then it can be deferred to experts" for drafting.
David Baker, an official in Olmert's office, said the core issues would not be discussed now.
The leaders will discuss humanitarian aid to the Palestinians and Israeli security concerns, as well as the institutions of a future Palestinian state, Baker said.
Baker said the meeting was a signal of Israeli good will, adding that Olmert "intends for this to be a productive meeting to enable progress with the Palestinians."
In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri criticized Abbas for meeting Olmert, saying the meeting was "aimed at beautifying the ugly image of the Israeli occupation before the world."
"All meetings will be of no benefit to the Palestinian people," Abu Zuhri said.