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Palestinian Official Says U.S. Envoy To Return To Mideast


George Mitchell's visit had been expected to usher in indirect Israeli-Palestinian talks, but that has been thrown in doubt by Palestinian anger at plans for 1,600 more homes for Jewish settlers near East Jerusalem.

George Mitchell's visit had been expected to usher in indirect Israeli-Palestinian talks, but that has been thrown in doubt by Palestinian anger at plans for 1,600 more homes for Jewish settlers near East Jerusalem.

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -- U.S. President Barack Obama's Middle East peace envoy will return to the region on March 21, having postponed a trip this week over an Israeli settlement plan, a senior Palestinian official told Reuters.

George Mitchell's visit had been expected to usher in indirect Israeli-Palestinian talks, but that has been thrown in doubt by Palestinian anger -- echoed in Washington -- at plans for 1,600 more homes for Jewish settlers near East Jerusalem.

"The Americans have told us that he will come on Sunday," said the Palestinian official, who declined to be named. Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas would meet Mitchell during his visit, the official said.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak's office said he spoke by phone on March 17 with Mitchell, who had originally planned to come on March 16. Barak oversees the occupied West Bank, which abuts East Jerusalem -- parts of an envisaged Palestinian state.

"They discussed the various means and possibilities for solving the crisis and activating negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians," Barak's office said in a statement.

"In addition, the two discussed the possibility of Mitchell arriving this coming Sunday."

The U.S. Embassy said it was aware of the reported conversation but had no information on Mitchell's travel plans.

A Mitchell mission next week could clash with the scheduled trip by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a meeting of a pro-Israel lobby in Washington. Whether he would also see Obama administration officials has been a matter of speculation.

After an Israel visit last week by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was marred by the settlement announcement, the administration said it had called on the Netanyahu government to show it was committed to peacemaking with the Palestinians.

As of March 17, when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton departed for a meeting of international Middle East mediators in Russia, no response had been received from Netanyahu, a State Department spokesman said.

Israeli media reports said Clinton wanted Israel to shelve the housing plan and agree to discuss core statehood issues with the Palestinians once indirect peace talks began. Netanyahu has said he would not curb building for Jews anywhere in Jerusalem.
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