Israel hoped Friday for "some sort" of a peace deal with the Palestinians in time for its leadership elections but made clear that marathon talks in Egypt would end next week, according to press reports.
"We are doing our very best to exhaust all possibilities to see if we can have some sort of an agreement," Israeli foreign minister, Shlomo Ben Ami, said after another round of talks in Egypt's Red Sea resort of Taba.
"It's not easy but we will do whatever we can to create a platform," Ben Ami said.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, the Palestinian information minister who is also a negotiator, said that the talks will be "at the minimum a step forward," according to AFP.
"It will not be a setback and it will not be just moving in the same place," he said after the two sides dined together at a kosher restaurant in the nearby Israeli town of Eilat.
EU envoy, Miguel Angel Moratinos, called the atmosphere at the dinner "very relaxed."
But Israel's caretaker Prime Minister Ehud Barak said the talks will break off "at the start of next week," telling public television: "Apparently, we will not be able to resolve anything."
An accord is seen as Barak's only chance to keep hard-liner Ariel Sharon from taking his job in the February 6 election, a result the Palestinians have warned would be "bad news" for the peace process, said AFP.
Haaretz newspaper quoted Sharon as telling Israel's TV Friday night that he will not participate in peace talks with Palestinians while the violence in the territories continues.
“I will not hold negotiations under fire,” Sharon said.
“I know the Arabs and they know my red lines,” he added. “I will only hold negotiations when there is quiet.”
Sharon said that he would “protect Israel from the Palestinian refugees.”
He also announced his intention to “establish a stable government,” and to “invite every party to take part in a national unity government,” Haaretz quoted him as saying.
Several Palestinian negotiators, meanwhile, told AFP that they could accept the publication of a "declaration or communiqué" which would serve as the basis for resuming talks if Barak is re-elected.
Press reports said that Barak decided to continue with peace negotiations in Taba Friday night despite the killing of an Israeli in a Jerusalem industrial area.
The killing took place on the day both sides buried the dead who lost their lives in the continuing violence. The killing of two Israelis in Tulkarem caused the talks to break off for two days.
The responsibility for the killing of the Israeli driver in Jerusalem Thursday was claimed by the same group which reportedly carried out the Tulkarem killing, namely, Thabet Thabet Group, named after the Fateh leader assassinated by the Israeli forces.
On Friday, more than 17 Palestinians were injured in sporadic clashes with the Israeli army in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Jewish settlers attacked several Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron, according to a report by A-Jazira satellite channel -- Albawaba.com
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