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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mideast Peace Talks Expected to Resume

NEW YORK -- U.S. mediator Dennis Ross tried Monday to iron out last-minute differences between Israel and the Palestinian Authority over settlements to clear the way for a resumption of their peace talks.

An announcement that the talks would be reopened after a six-month lapse marked by violence and recrimination was expected in late afternoon.

The Palestinians sought to include in the statement a provision strongly discouraging Israel's expansion of settlements on the West Bank, while Israel resisted the inclusion, diplomatic sources said.

U.S. President Bill Clinton's administration has publicly urged Israel not to take steps considered provocative by the Palestinians. The U.S. position is that expanding settlements undercuts chances for successful peace talks.

Ross shuttled between Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy and Palestinian negotiator Mahmoud Abbas, both in New York, to try resolving the dispute, said sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Whether reopened negotiations will get to core issues and succeed is likely to depend on Israel's security concerns.

Levy, meeting Sunday night with Ross, stressed security "is our No. 1 issue.'' He and Ross were guardedly optimistic there would be an announcement today of a resumption.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was bringing Levy together with Abbas, a senior adviser to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. She also met separately with Levy and then was due to see Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa, but there apparently was little hope of a breakthrough on that track.

In Tunis, Tunisia, an Arafat adviser said Monday's meeting would show "how much Israel is ready to respect the signed accords'' with the Palestinians.

Nabil Abourdeneh, Arafat's political counselor, urged creation of a watchdog process to monitor the implementation of the peace accords, saying this would bring "credibility to negotiations.''

Arafat was wrapping up a visit to Tunisia on Monday with a meeting with President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in an effort to sound out his Arab allies. He was to return to Gaza later Monday.

The first order of business for Israel and the Palestinians is an overdue Israeli pullback on the West Bank. Under the 1993 and 1995 Oslo accords, Israel decides how far back to pull its troops and turn administrative control over to Arafat's Palestinian Authority.

A senior adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that Israel would consider handing over additional West Bank land only once Arafat has made a serious effort to crush Islamic militant groups.

Palestinian demands for use of an airport and seaport also would be on the table. But Albright hopes to accelerate the pace of peacemaking by getting the two sides to take up the toughest issues.

These include Palestinian desires for a separate state with its capital in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu has already signaled a willingness to pull back on the West Bank. But last week he announced Jewish settlements there would be expanded.

The six-month break off was marked by deadly attacks by Islamic militants on Israeli civilians and Israeli decisions to expand the Jewish presence in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu said Sunday the Palestinians had made "first, preliminary steps'' toward combating terrorism. He also ordered that $17 million in frozen tax revenues collected from Palestinian workers -- about half what Israel owes the Palestinian Authority -- be released.