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Conditions 'not suitable' for new Mideast talks, Egypt says

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Egyptian FM: 'Conditions not suitable'
  • Egypt backs the Palestinians on Israeli West Bank settlements
  • The resumption of construction is a stumbling block to new talks, Palestinians say
  • U.S. envoy George Mitchell says efforts to restart negotiations are "difficult"

(CNN) -- Israeli-Palestinian peace talks aren't likely to resume unless Israel reinstates its moratorium on building new settlements in the West Bank, Egypt's foreign minister said Sunday after meetings with U.S. mediator George Mitchell.

"The Egyptian position is that we understand the Palestinian position, which demands suitable conditions in order to go on to direct talks," Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said. "The conditions are not suitable at the moment."

Israel's freeze on new construction expired September 26, with work on new projects beginning hours later. Palestinian officials have said they won't return to the recently resumed peace talks while new Israeli settlements are being built on land the Palestinians consider part of a future state.

Gheit, Mitchell and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met Sunday in Cairo to discuss the future of direct negotiations, which resumed in September after an 18-month hiatus.

After the session, Gheit said Egypt has asked the United States to keep pushing the parties toward a resumption of talks, "and Egypt will do the same to achieve the goal of an Israel settlement freeze to maintain the security of negotiations."

Video: Warning from past failures
  • Peace Talks
  • Israel
  • Egypt
  • Palestine
  • George Mitchell

Mitchell, the Obama administration's Mideast envoy and a former U.S. Senate leader, said that the ultimate solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be reached through direct negotiations. But he acknowledged the process is "difficult."

"We understood that from the beginning," Mitchell said Sunday. "We know that there have been and will be many more obstacles. But we must work to overcome the challenges, and we're doing so."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to extend the moratorium, urging the Palestinians to stick with the talks despite the new construction. Netanyahu said Saturday that Israeli had carried out a series of gestures to initiate the negotiations and that Palestinians held direct talks in previous years during settlement construction.

But Palestinian leaders meeting in the West Bank on Saturday backed a halt to peace talks with Israel if it does not freeze settlement construction, a member of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' ruling party told CNN.

And Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa told reporters that Israel's stance was "a completely negative approach."

"We know that settlements and negotiations cannot go side-by-side," Moussa said.

CNN's Yousuf Basil contributed to this report.