JERUSALEM, Jan. 8 (UPI) -- Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed Tuesday to begin negotiations aimed at creating a Palestinian state.
Mark Regev, a spokesman for Olmert, said both leaders agreed to authorize their negotiating teams "to conduct direct and ongoing negotiations on all the core issues" for a final status agreement.
The announcement came a day before U.S. President George Bush was scheduled to arrive in Jerusalem as part of his nine-day trip to the region, the newspaper reported.
Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian negotiator who attended Tuesday's meeting, noted afterward that Bush had "urged that the year of 2008 be made the year to reach peace" between Israel and the Palestinians.
"The intention is to see to it that we give peace a chance," Erekat said.
In the weeks since the U.S.-led Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Md., late last year negotiators have made little headway, partly because the Palestinians have demanded that Israel stop its settlement-building activity before substantive talks may begin.
Chief among the sticking points are the fate of Palestinian refugees and their descendants and the status of Jerusalem, the Times said.