Mubarak: talks can succeed if Israel freezes settlements

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CAIRO: President Hosni Mubarak has said that a Middle East peace deal is achievable within half a year if Israel extends a moratorium on Jewish settlements for up to four months, the state news agency MENA reported.

"What are three or for months, for the sake of the continuation of the peace talks and for the sake of reaching an agreement in three or six months," Mubarak said in an Israeli television interview due to air on Saturday, extracts of which were carried by MENA.

He called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take the "difficult decision" of freezing settlement construction, the MENA report said.

"This issue requires difficult decisions, which can only be taken by powerful leaders, and I believe Netanyahu can take a difficult decision," he said.

Israel and the Palestinians relaunched US-brokered direct peace talks on Sept. 2 after a 20-month hiatus, but they remain deeply divided on the issue of settlement construction.

The talks went into their second round this week, but Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to walk out if Israel renews building Jewish settlements after a partial, 10-month moratorium expires this month.

Some 500,000 Israelis live in more than 120 Jewish settlements across the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories expected to form the bulk of a future Palestinian state.

The conflict over settlements has been one of the core disputes in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks going back to the early 1990s.

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