Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas.jpg
Photograph: EPA/FADI AROURI/POOL

Brussels (dpa) - An official tete-a-tete between Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, both visiting the seat of the European Union in Brussels, will not take place despite attempts to broker such a meeting, both sides said Thursday.

Their visits come amid international efforts to revive the Middle East peace talks. The last attempt, led by US Secretary of State John Kerry, collapsed in April 2014. Since then, no high-level meetings between Israeli and Palestinian officials have taken place.

According to Rivlin's office in Jerusalem, Abbas had refused "a European initiative to set a meeting between the two." The Israeli president had indicated on Wednesday he was willing to meet his Palestinian counterpart.

"I find it strange that President Mahmoud Abbas ... refused again and again to meet with Israeli leaders," Rivlin said Thursday. "I was very sorry to learn he rejected such a meeting. We will not be able to build trust between us if we don't begin to speak directly."

Meanwhile, Abbas' office said in a statement that "there was no appointment and there were no arrangements for a meeting."

Abbas went to Brussels to "address the recent developments regarding the peace process and to discuss the international conference for peace in the Middle East," his office added.

The Israeli and Palestinan sides disagree over recent French-led efforts to hold a peace conference by the end of the year.

Abbas said he was "grateful for this noble effort," in an address Thursday to the European Parliament. "We Arabs are with you in this initiative," he added, while telling Israel: "Our hands are extended with a desire for peace."

But Israel has rejected the initiative, fearing international attempts to impose a solution. It insists on holding direct bilateral negotiations with the Palestinians, without any preconditions.

"Direct talks is the only possible way to build trust and to restore the conditions for a peace," Rivlin said during a joint press conference with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

But Mogherini said that Israel should respond to new regional opportunities created by security cooperation with key Arab countries.

"It is in the interest of Israel and the Israeli people, first of all their security, to use this window of opportunity before it is too late," the EU's top diplomat said.

Violence has flared up since the 2014 breakdown in Middle East peace talks. That year, Israel and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza waged a 50-day war. Since October, scores of Palestinian stabbings, shootings and vehicle attacks have prompted tough Israeli counter-measures.

The EU is a member of the so-called Middle East Quartet, alongside the United States, Russia and the United Nations. The group is due to issue recommendations to both sides in a highly anticipated report, expected in the coming days.

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