Middle East peace talks welcomed

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Israel has welcomed a US invitation to launch direct peace talks with Palestinians, a spokesman said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long sought a resumption of the talks that stalled before a Gaza war in late 2008, saying he was ready to sit down at any time with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Mark Regev, spokesman for the Prime Minister's office, said Israel welcomed a Middle East Quartet statement inviting them to join direct peace talks next month.

"Prime Minister Netanyahu has been calling to start such talks for a year and a half now, and that it is indeed possible is something that we welcome. We have no illusions, the talks will be difficult but a peace agreement is possible, an agreement that protects Israel's vital interests and creates peace between Israelis and Palestinians," he said.

Palestinian leaders also said the talks were welcome. Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians' chief negotiator said the statement - issued in New York in the name of the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations - contained the elements needed to provide for a peace agreement.

He said he had no immediate comment to make on a simultaneous invitation to launch the talks issued in Washington by Clinton, but he said Palestinian leaders would be meeting to discuss their response.

Clinton invited Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to resume direct talks in Washington on September 2 with an aim to reaching a peace deal within one year.