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Direct talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders to begin

In briefing reporters, Mitchell said that "there is a window of opportunity, a moment in time within which there remains the possibility of achieving the two-state solution, which is so essential to comprehensive peace in the region."

"Difficult as it may be for both leaders, and we recognize that difficulty for both of them, the alternatives for them and the members of their societies pose far greater difficulties and far greater problems in the future."

In 2007, President George W. Bush hosted a summit in Annapolis, Md., attended by dozens of foreign ministers to inaugurate Middle East talks that had been dormant for seven years. Since then, the economic and security climate in the West Bank have improved. Tuesday's shooting marked the first Israeli civilian casualties there from Palestinian militant attacks in eight months.

The Palestinians have a U.S.-trained security force that has improved law and order. Economic growth in the West Bank reached 8.5 percent last year thanks in part to greater freedom of movement.

Netanyahu has told his cabinet he will "surprise" the skeptics. He wants biweekly meetings with Abbas to negotiate the core elements of a deal.

The Palestinians want a sovereign state in the West Bank with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israel wants to retain parts of the territory where there are major Jewish settlements.

On the issue of Palestinian refugees, Israel wants them to return to a future state of Palestine; the Palestinians say they have a right to return to Israel itself.

Staff writer Scott Wilson in Washington and special correspondent Samuel Sockol in Jerusalem contributed to this report.


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