Israel and the Palestinians are hoping to forge a permanent agreement on the final status of the Palestinian territories at secret negotiations in Stockholm, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said Wednesday.
"I think there will be difficulties, but both parties understand that the alternatives are forcing them to make progress towards an accord," he said in an interview on Israeli radio.
"We hope to reach an agreement with the Palestinians and it is important that the nature of the discussions (in Sweden) remains a secret," he added.
The establishment of a second track of negotiations was revealed after the two sides missed a May 13 deadline for a framework peace accord on the thorniest outstanding issues including Jerusalem, refugees, borders of a future Palestinian state and the fate of Jewish settlements in occupied territory.
The Swedish round is being led by Israeli Public Security Minister Shlomo Ben Ami on the Israeli side and a former Israeli chief negotiator, lawyer Gilad Sher, while the Palestinian team includes legislative council speaker Ahmed Qorei and cabinet member Hassan Asfur.
The opening of the second track of negotiations upset Palestinian information minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, who resigned in protest as chief negotiator on Monday.
US Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, who flew into the region after the worst violence in years erupted in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, said Tuesday he was convinced both sides were committed to peace.
"Clearly we have an environment in the last couple of days that made the situation much more difficult, but there was also a very determined effort to calm that environment," Ross said.
"We are dealing with a conflict that has been one of the most intractable over the last hundred years and yet now there is an opportunity, and both leaders see it, to end this conflict."
Ross met Tuesday both Barak and Palestinian president Yasser Arafat ahead of the Israeli prime minister's trip next week to Washington where he is due to meet US President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
Meanwhile, Israeli and Palestinian officials are due to meet on Thursday to discuss the transfer of three Arab villages near Jerusalem to the full control of Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority, Israeli radio reported – OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (AFP)
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