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|Posted: Mon Apr 02, 2007 12:57 am Post subject: Israel offers Arabs peace talks
Sunday, 1 April 2007, 20:12 GMT 21:12 UK
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has proposed holding a regional peace conference following the revival of an Arab peace initiative.
Mr Olmert said if Saudi Arabia arranged a conference of moderate Arab states and invited him and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, he would attend.
Earlier, Mr Abbas urged Israel to engage in direct serious negotiations as soon as possible.
Last week Arab leaders urged Israel to accept a peace plan proposed in 2002.
Saudi Arabia has yet to respond but the BBC's Alim Maqbool in Jerusalem says Mr Olmert's call for a regional summit suggests the plan could at least form a basis for fresh negotiations.
The Saudi plan offers Israel normalisation of ties with Arab states if it pulls out of all Arab land it occupied in 1967 and a "just solution" for Palestinian refugees.
Israel rejected the plan outright when it was first proposed.
But Mr Olmert said on Thursday Israel was ready to make "big and painful" concessions to advance the peace process.
Mr Olmert's call for a regional peace conference came during a news conference in Jerusalem with the visiting German leader, Angela Merkel.
"I am announcing to the heads of the Arab states on this occasion that if the Saudi king initiates a meeting of moderate Arab states and invites me and the head of the Palestinian Authority in order to present us the Saudi ideas, we will come to hear them and we will be glad to voice ours," Mr Olmert said.
"I think it is time to make a momentous effort in order to give a push to the diplomatic process... I am optimistic," he said.
"I invite all the heads of the Arab states, including of course the Saudi king whom I consider a very important leader, to hold talks with us," he said.
Earlier, speaking after his own talks with Mrs Merkel, the Palestinian leader had called on the Israeli government to respond constructively to the new Arab peace initiative.
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