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U.S. envoy arrives in Israel for more talks

U.S. envoy Dennis Ross arrived Sunday in Israel for a new round of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders aimed at pushing the peace process forward.

Israel planned to discuss with Ross an American request for a "time-out" in Israeli settlement activity, said David Bar-Illan, a top aide for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.But Bar-Illan said there would be no halt to construction of settlements on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where Palestinians hope to establish an independent state. He said Israel wants to work with Ross to "define what the American administration means by a time-out" in settlement activity.

During his meeting with Netanyahu, Ross was expected to discuss details of talks to be held in Washington at the end of the month between Foreign Minister David Levy and Mahmoud Abbas, top deputy to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Bar-Illan said Israel would raise demands for Arafat to do more to fight terrorism, and discuss its desire to move directly toward talks on a final peace settlement with the Palestinians, bypassing the current interim stage laid out by signed accords.

After meeting with Netanyahu on Sunday, Ross traveled to Ramallah on the West Bank for talks with Arafat.

The peace process was frozen for seven months after Israel began construction of a new Jewish settlement on disputed east Jerusalem land claimed by the Palestinians.

Three suicide bombings since then derailed the process, but recent American initiatives succeeded in coaxing the sides back to the table. Earlier this month, Ross arranged an Arafat-Netanyahu summit, their first meeting in eight months.

Netanyahu also met Sunday with former U.S. secretary of state Warren Christopher, who is visiting the region. Christopher said Saturday that Clinton was concerned peace wasn't moving quickly enough.

"I know President Clinton is deeply concerned about the peace process here. He calls me to talk about it from time to time," Christopher said.

Christopher, here for the opening of a peace center run by former prime minister Shimon Peres, helped negotiate the initial Israel-Palestinian peace accords.