Abbas reportedly agrees to indirect peace talks


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly has agreed in principle to hold indirect peace negotiations with Israel brokered by the United States.

An unnamed senior Palestinian official confirmed the talks, which are expected to begin Feb. 20, the French news agency AFP reported Monday.

The official told AFP that the talks brokered by U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell "will be aimed at creating a better climate and reaching an understanding on the borders of the Palestinian state, and they will begin on Feb. 20."

"They will last three months, with the Americans negotiating directly with the two sides after determining a timetable and agreed-upon mechanisms for implementation," AFP quoted the source as saying.

Abbas has not yet given his final approval to the deal. He will consult with Arab leaders and get some clarifications from the United States before responding, AFP reported. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes the shuttle diplomacy will lead to direct negotiations, according to reports.

Also Monday, Abbas’ Cabinet announced plans to hold municipal elections on July 17, according to The Associated Press. They would be the first Palestinian elections since Hamas took control of Gaza in June 2007.

The Cabinet statement said elections also would be held in Gaza, according to the AP.

Presidential and legislative elections were supposed to have taken place in January. They have not been rescheduled.  

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