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Israeli envoy, Abbas meet on peace talks

JERUSALEM -- An Israeli envoy met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday and delivered a letter from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu detailing his government's stance on stalled peace negotiations.

Yitzhak Molcho held talks with Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinians' government. The modest exchange was the highest-level communication between the Palestinians and Israelis in months.

Netanyahu's office later issued a joint statement that said that "Israel and the Palestinian Authority are committed to achieving peace and the sides hope that the exchange of letters between President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu will further this goal."

Israeli media reported that Israel had called for renewed peace talks without preconditions. Palestinians are demanding that Israel cease settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem -- areas they claim as part of their future state -- before talks can begin.

The communication by letter demonstrates how thoroughly negotiations to create an independent Palestinian state have fallen apart. The last effort was four months ago, but preliminary meetings between Israeli and Palestinian officials stalled in Amman, Jordan's capital.

Also, Palestinian officials said Egyptian mediators were trying to work out a solution with Israelis and Palestinians to end a mass Palestinian hunger strike. An Israeli official confirmed talks were taking place but would not elaborate. Egyptian officials weren't immediately available for comment.

About 1,600 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails are on hunger strike to demand better conditions and to put an end to detention without trial.

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