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Middle East peace talks to restart

Israel and the Palestinians have agreed to resume stalled direct peace negotiations in Washington early next month, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said.

She made the announcement at the State Department in Washington with special Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell at her side.

The breakthrough marks a small but important step toward easing tensions in the Middle East.

Mrs Clinton said the talks are to begin on September 2, hosted by President Barack Obama.

She said the hope is that a comprehensive peace agreement can be reached within one year. The leaders of Egypt and Jordan also have been invited to attend the first session.

The Obama administration has been pushing for a speedy resumption of face-to-face negotiations that broke down in December 2008. Mitchell has been shuttling between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for months in a bid to get them to agree.

The Palestinians had been balking at direct talks until the Quartet - the US, UN, European Union and Russia - reaffirmed a March statement calling for a peace deal based on the pre-1967 Middle East war borders.

But Israel had rejected that, saying it amounted to placing conditions on the negotiations. Israel had been demanding a separate invitation from the US. After weeks of wrangling, officials said a compromise had been reached.

Under the deal the Quartet would call for talks that "lead to a settlement, negotiated between the parties, that ends the occupation which began in 1967 and results in the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbours".

Foreign Secretary William Hague said: "I warmly welcome the decision by prime minister Netanyahu and president Abbas to move to direct talks, and the Quartet statement earlier today. A two-state solution is the only hope for lasting peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians. Today's announcement is a courageous step towards that goal."

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