by Staff Writers
Jerusalem (AFP) June 10, 2012
While direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians remain in deep freeze, high-level officials from both sides have been holding a quiet dialogue on a range of issue, both sides said on Sunday.
The talks, which fall far short of peace negotiations, were first reported on Sunday by the Haaretz daily and confirmed to AFP by both Israeli and Palestinian officials.
The discussions involve Israeli envoy Yitzhak Molcho and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat, and have involved issues including an exchange of letters between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
They have also covered a mass Palestinian hunger strike, and a Palestinian request for the transfer of arms from Jordan to Palestinian Authority security forces.
An Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity, said "there are ongoing communications at different levels."
"Israel is ready to resume direct talks without any preconditions," the official told AFP.
"We have adopted over the past weeks confidence building measures, to try create a better atmosphere for those talks," he added, pointing to a deal that ended the hunger strike and Israel's return of the bodies of Palestinian militants.
"In the framework of talks, we say both sides can bring to the table all their issues and concerns, nothing is off the table and we are eager to move forward," he added. "We hope the Palestinians are too."
Erakat also confirmed to AFP that "there were meetings with Molcho and those meetings come within the framework of dialogue between president Mahmud Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu."
He said the talks concerned specific Palestinian requests and were not peace talks.
"Recently, these meetings talked about the necessity of releasing all the prisoners who were arrested before the Oslo agreement, and they are 123 prisoners," he said.
On Saturday, Abbas said that he would engage in "dialogue" with Netanyahu if Israel would free Palestinian prisoners held since before the 1993 Oslo peace accord.
But he said direct peace talks would not resume unless Israel halts settlement construction in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem and agrees to use the lines that existed before the 1967 Six Day War as the basis for negotiations on borders.
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