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Olmert, Abbas agree to hold regular talks

Story Highlights

• U.S. says Israelis, Palestinians will meet every two weeks to "build confidence"
• Condoleezza Rice: Meetings will lead to two states living side by side in "peace"
• Rice admits Hamas' role in Palestinian unity government complicates matters
• Hamas refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist
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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have agreed to meet every two weeks to discuss security issues and "build confidence," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday at a news conference in Jerusalem.

Rice has shuttled between the Middle Eastern neighbors since arriving on Sunday. Neither Olmert nor Abbas attended the news briefing.

According to Rice, the meetings initially will focus on "immediate concerns," including cross-border movement and access, and preventing arms smuggling and rocket fire by "terrorists" from Gaza.

The Israelis have greatly restricted travel between Israel and Gaza because of attacks by Palestinian militants.

"These are initial discussions to build confidence between the parties," Rice said. "Palestinians must know that their state will be viable. Israelis must know that a future state of Palestine will be a source of security, not a threat to it."

The hope is the regular meetings between the two leaders will lead to what Rice said would be "two states living side by side in peace and security."

"The parties will also begin to discuss the development of a political horizon consistent with the establishment of a Palestinian state in accordance with the 'road map,' " Rice said, referring to the 2003 internationally backed plan for peace.

"We are not yet at final status negotiations. These are initial discussions to build confidence between parties."

But the secretary of state made it clear that the process had been complicated by the inclusion of Hamas in a recently formed Palestinian unity government.

"A path of cooperation with the new Palestinian government exists, but it is blocked by Hamas' continued unwillingness to commit itself, in word and deed, to the Quartet principles -- renouncing violence, recognizing Israel's right to exist and adhering to previous agreements and obligations."

The Middle East "Quartet" includes the United Nations, United States, European Union and Russia.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert meet earlier this month in Jerusalem.



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