Abbas meets US Middle East envoy Mitchell

US Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell on Saturday met Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas in a bid to avoid a Palestinian withdrawal from new negotiations with Israel, officials said.

The US administration was also in contact with Israeli leaders ahead of Sunday’s end to an Israeli moratorium on settlement building in the occupied territories, officials said.

Abbas has threatened to leave the US-organized talks if Israel halts the moratorium.

A top Abbas aide said the Palestinian leader was meeting Mitchell at a New York hotel.

US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley confirmed the meeting was to be held and said: “We are staying in touch with the Israelis as well.”

Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak and lawyer Yitzhak Molcho, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s point man on the peace talks, were in New York to aid efforts toward a compromise, Israeli radio reported.

Abbas and Israeli leaders are in New York for the UN General Assembly.

Abbas had also been predicted to meet US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to follow up an encounter between the two dignitaries Friday night, but Crowley said no meeting had been scheduled.