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Olmert sees possible ’08 accord

Israel and the Palestinian Authority could clinch a peace accord next year, Ehud Olmert said.

The Israeli prime minister, who was hosted by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik on Tuesday for talks ahead of next week’s Annapolis peace conference with the Palestinians, played down disagreements on the parley’s agenda.

“There will be difficult disputes, and crises and disagreements, but I am optimistic that if we act cautiously and responsibly, there is a chance that in the end we will reach an agreement,” Olmert told reporters. “I very much hope that we will reach it in the course of 2008.”

Like Olmert, Mubarak described the U.S.-hosted conference in Maryland as a “launch” for future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations rather than a negotiating forum in itself. Ha’aretz quoted the Egyptian president as saying that Syria, which has been ambivalent about whether to go to Annapolis, would attend if invited by the Bush administration.

The Israeli and Egyptian leaders further announced they were expanding bilateral economic ties and setting up a joint framework for preventing arms smuggling to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

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