3 Sep 2010

Middle East talks end in Washington

9:37 pm on 3 September 2010

Israeli and Palestinian leaders have concluded their first direct negotiations in nearly two years, in Washington.

United States Middle East envoy George Mitchell says the talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas had been constructive.

The two leaders have agreed to fortnightly talks in a bid to end the six-decade conflict.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton opened the negotiations saying the presence of the two leaderswas itself a step toward peace.

"By being here today, you each have taken an important step toward freeing your peoples from the shackles of a history we cannot change and moving toward a future of peace and dignity that only you can create," she said.

Mr Netanyahu said painful concessions from both sides would be needed, while Mr Abbas called on Israel to end all settlement construction and lift the blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Earlier, US President Barack Obama held separate White House meetings with the leaders, urging them not to let the chance of permanent peace "slip away".

Palestinian militants say they will step up attacks against Israeli targets after the resumption of peace talks.

A spokesperson for Hamas says 13 groups have joined forces to launch what he calls more effective attacks.

On Tuesday, four Israelis were shot dead in the West Bank.