A big stick

FRIENDS: Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert with French Foreign Minister Kouchner. Pic. Ben Gershom. 18/11/07. © AP.a
FRIENDS: Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert with French Foreign Minister Kouchner. Pic. Ben Gershom. 18/11/07. © AP.a

JERUSALEM - The United States is pressing Israel to go beyond a planned partial settlement freeze and to raise the number of Palestinian prisoners to be freed before a peace conference, Israeli and Western officials said yesterday.

JERUSALEM - The United States is pressing Israel to go beyond a planned partial settlement freeze and to raise the number of Palestinian prisoners to be freed before a peace conference, Israeli and Western officials said yesterday.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are expected to meet today in Jerusalem for the last time before attending the conference on Palestinian statehood in Annapolis, Maryland, in just over a week, officials said.

In addition to at least a partial freeze in Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank, Olmert plans to ask his cabinet today to approve the release of around 450 Palestinian prisoners, short of the 2000 requested by Abbas.

US President George Bush called for the conference to bolster Abbas and the long-stalled peace process after Hamas Islamists seized the Gaza Strip in June.

Preparations for the conference have been marred by disputes between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators over a joint document meant to address in general terms "core" issues such as borders, and the future of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.

Washington has stepped up pressure on both sides to resolve their differences, but US and Israeli officials have stressed the centrepiece of the conference will be an agreement to resume formal negotiations. - Reuters

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