Tripartite talks among the Israelis, Palestinians and the United States are under way in Washington, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton holding a bilateral meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday. Ms. Clinton also met Quartet representative Tony Blair.

Though no statements came out of Ms. Clinton's bilateral discussion with Mr. Abbas, her talks with Mr. Netanyahu were preceded by condemnation by both leaders of the killing of four Israelis near the West Bank city of Hebron. The Israelis, among whom one was said to be a pregnant, were killed after their vehicle came under fire from unidentified gunmen. The LA Times reported that Hamas took responsibility for the attack.

In a statement following his “productive discussion” with Mr. Netanyahu, President Barack Obama also criticised the extremists and rejectionists who he said sought to undermine the talks. He added that the U.S. would be “unwavering in its support of Israel’s security,” and push back against such terrorist activities. Mr. Obama also noted that President Abbas, who he met on Wednesday afternoon, had “condemned this outrageous attack, as well.” He said he had the utmost confidence in Mr. Abbas and his belief in a two-state solution.

State Department officials expressed hope that the discussions would lead to progress.Special Envoy for Middle East (West Asia) Peace Senator George Mitchell said: “I believe that it is an awareness [of the] realities by the two leaders... that there is a window of opportunity... within which there remains the possibility of achieving the two-state solution.” He said though such a reality may be difficult for both leaders, the alternatives posed far greater problems.

Mr. Mitchell said the U.S. would play an “active and sustained role in the process,” though that did “not mean that the U.S. must be physically represented in every single meeting”.

American officials also noted they did not expect Hamas to play a role in “this immediate process”. However, they welcomed Hamas' full participation “once they comply with the basic requirements of democracy and nonviolence”..

President Barack Obama spent most of Wednesday holding bilateral meetings with the various assembled leaders, including Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Abbas, King Abdullah II of Jordan and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.

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