JERUSALEM: Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was on Monday holding a face-to-face meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad at a hotel in Jerusalem, officials on both sides said.
The two were meeting at the King David hotel on the eve of talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama at the White House.
Palestinians officials insisted the two would not discuss any issues related to the ongoing indirect peace negotiations, and said the focus would be on security coordination on the ground.
Barak said the talks would focus on security coordination and "the situation on the ground" in remarks to reporters on Wednesday, while Fayyad’s office said he would demand Israel end the blockade on Gaza and halt incursions into West Bank cities.
"The meeting today doesn’t fall within the scope of negotiations but aims to make life easier for our people," Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghassan Khatib said in a statement.
"The meeting will focus on the means and ways of ending the Israeli siege on Gaza and stopping Israeli attacks on West Bank cities," he said.
"It aims to enable the Palestinian security services to provide services to citizens outside the cities."
But Hamas, the radical Islamist movement which rules the Gaza Strip, reacted angrily to the talks, saying it proved Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was violating his own commitment not to engage in direct talks with Israel.
"This meeting proves that Abbas is lying when he says he doesn’t want to move to direct negotiations," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said in a statement.
Israel and Washington are trying to push the Palestinians into upgrading the US-brokered indirect talks to direct negotiations — a move which Abbas says will only happen when there is progress on the key issues of borders and security.
But the Palestinians say very little progress has been made, with Abbas accusing Netanyahu of stalling the talks in comments published last week.
High-level contacts between the two sides have been virtually frozen since Israel’s devastating 22-day war on the Gaza Strip in December 2008-January 2009.
The two sides have engaged in indirect talks since May, but a move to direct talks is likely to be high on the agenda when Netanyahu meets Obama on Tuesday.