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BRUSSELS (AFP) – Israeli and Palestinian negotiators’ stated goal of reaching a comprehensive peace deal inside nine months is realistic, the European Union’s top diplomat said Wednesday, painting the bloc as a “reliable friend” to both sides.

“I firmly believe that a final end to this conflict is within reach,” Catherine Ashton said in a statement.

“I call on all those who wish to see a negotiated solution to support those now engaged in talks so that the opportunity for peace can be seized.”

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, who met in Washington this week for the first direct talks in three years, on Tuesday set an ambitious goal to reach an elusive peace deal within nine months.

“Both Israel and the Palestinians have a reliable friend and ally in the European Union,” said Ashton.

“The resumption of talks opens new doors both for developing further the EU’s contribution to peace and security in the region and for deepening our relations with both parties.

“We will remain fully engaged with both parties and will make every effort, together with our partners, to ensure that negotiations succeed,” she added.

The last direct talks between the two parties collapsed in September 2010 amid continued Israeli settlement building.

Photo Credit: AFP/Nicholas Kamm

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