US Mideast envoy to meet Israeli PM

JERUSALEM: US Middle East envoy George Mitchell is due to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday for a second time on his latest trip aimed at restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The former US senator was to meet the hawkish premier in Jerusalem around 1000 GMT, officials said.

Mitchell had already held separate meetings with Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Friday aiming to get the two sides to agree to restart peace negotiations suspended in December amid the Gaza war.

He said Washington was pushing for an "early relaunch" of negotiations and said the US administration was still deeply and fully committed to the vision of a "viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory."

But hopes for a breakthrough were dim, with Israel saying Washington's vision of a comprehensive peace deal was unrealistic, and no compromise in site on the thorny issue of Jewish settlements in occupied West Bank.

The Palestinians have backed US calls that Israel freeze all settlement activity before peace talks are resumed, but the hawkish Netanyahu has refused to do so.

Mitchell admitted to the hurdles facing his mission on Friday when he said that "we do not underestimate the difficulty for us or the parties."

Israel and the Palestinians relaunched their peace negotiations in November 2007, but the talks made little visible progress and were suspended in late December, after the start of Israel's war in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.