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Abbas signals flexibility on Palestinian refugees

RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Palestinian president reassured a group of young Israeli activists visiting his West Bank compound on Sunday that he has no intention of flooding Israel with Palestinian refugees — his most ambitious attempt yet to directly influence Israeli public opinion over the heads of a largely hard-line Israeli leadership.

President Mahmoud Abbas made a series of conciliatory statements on some of the most sensitive issues in peace talks, including alleged Palestinian incitement against Israel and recognition of Jewish suffering in the Holocaust, as he sought to rally support for US-backed peace efforts.

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Abbas delivered his message at a sensitive time in the peace talks.

The sides have been conducting behind-the-scenes negotiations for nearly seven months.

With an April target date approaching, there have been no signs of progress.

The talks have been marred by finger-pointing, with both sides accusing each other of hindering the negotiations with rigid demands.

Speaking to some 300 Israeli university students and activists, Abbas signaled new flexibility in one of the thorniest issues of the conflict: Palestinian refugees’ “right of return” to lost properties in what is now Israel.

“I am not looking to drown Israel with millions of refugees to change its nature,” Abbas said. “We want to put the problem on the table and find a creative solution . . . you will be satisfied and we will be satisfied.”

The fate of the Palestinian refugees is one of the most emotional issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Some 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes during the war surrounding Israel’s establishment in 1948.

Today, the number of refugees and their descendants number about 5 million people, spread mostly throughout the West Bank, Gaza Strip and neighboring Arab countries.

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