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Second round of talks on Mideast peace begin

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, EGYPT – Israeli and Palestinian leaders met at this Red Sea resort Tuesday for their second round of direct talks, tackling for the first time some of the toughest core issues dividing the parties as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton scrambled to keep the talks from collapsing over the issue of renewed Israeli settlement construction.

No resolution of that impasse appeared to have been found during two hours of discussions, both before and after lunch, between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. But a senior U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that the settlement issue was discussed and that both men appeared interested in finding a solution.

“It is very clear to me that both leaders are sincere, are serious to want to find a way to continue the discussions,” the official said.

An Israeli official, also speaking anonymously, said: “We want the process to work, and the goal is to keep the process going. Between zero and the tens of thousands of housing units that are in the pipeline, there are a variety of options.”

Netanyahu and Abbas were scheduled to continue the talks in Jerusalem today, along with Clinton and George J. Mitchell, the U.S. special envoy to the Middle East.

Mitchell, briefing reporters with only sparse details after the initial conversation of 1 hour 40 minutes, sidestepped a question on whether progress was being made on the settlement dispute. He said only that “we continue our efforts to make progress, and we believe we are moving in the right direction, overall.”