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Olmert was close to peace deal, says Abbas

In comments set to stir Israel's election campaign, the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, has said that he and former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert were "two months" away from a peace deal before Mr Olmert stepped down.

With Mr Olmert cleared of several corruption charges and considering a challenge to the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, at the parliamentary election next January, supporters have highlighted Mr Olmert's efforts to make peace with Mr Abbas in negotiations that foundered under Mr Netanyahu's right-wing coalition.

Speaking to Israeli politicians in the West Bank on Sunday, Mr Abbas said: "I worked hard with Olmert. Unfortunately, he suddenly retired. We discussed the borders, the exchange of territories and traded maps. We were close and reached many understandings."

Asked how close the pair were to a deal in 2008, Mr Abbas replied in English: "I'm sure if he continued, two months." Mr Olmert and other officials involved in those US-sponsored talks have spoken of progress in, for example, pencilling new borders to divide Israel from a new Palestinian state. But both Mr Abbas and Mr Olmert would have struggled to convince hardliners on either side to support any peace plan they might have produced.

Mr Olmert was once a member of Mr Netanyahu's Likud party but joined the centrist movement Kadima, which he led in government from 2006 before resigning in 2008 over corruption allegations.