Israeli and Palestinian leaders began their first round of direct peace negotiations in more than a year on Thursday, pledging to meet again in two weeks as part of a U.S.-brokered quest for peace.

U.S. Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas held productive meetings and would meet again in the region on September 14-15 and every two weeks thereafter.

The direct peace negotiations came despite widespread scepticism and fresh violence in the volatile West Bank that underscored the challenges facing both leaders as they seek an agreement to establish an independent Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel.

President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu are committed to doing what it takes to achieve the right result, Mitchell told reporters, adding that both he and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would attend the September talks.

This will not be easy, Netanyahu said earlier as talks hosted by Clinton began at the State Department. A true peace, a lasting peace, would be achieved only with mutual and painful concessions from both sides.

Mitchell said both sides agreed that the talks were sensitive and that they would therefore release little information about details of their discussions.

But he said they agreed that the first item on the agenda would be to work up a framework agreement to establish the fundamental compromises necessary to reach a final deal within a year.

The talks mark the latest in a long line of efforts dating back decades to resolve one of the world's most intractable disputes.

U.S. President Barack Obama, convening the talks ahead of the pivotal November U.S. congressional elections, met both leaders at the White House on Wednesday and later urged them not to let the chance for peace slip.

Netanyahu and Abbas appeared to be in a conciliatory public mood on Thursday. They met together with Clinton for more than an hour, and then privately one-on-one, U.S. officials said.

Mitchell declined to say whether the two leaders had touched on the issue of Jewish settlements in areas of the West Bank occupied by Israel.

Abbas called on Israel to end the blockade of the Gaza Strip and stop settlement activity -- a key sticking point that many fear could torpedo the talks within weeks.

Abbas has said he will pull out of the talks unless Israel extends its self-imposed moratorium on new settlement construction, which is due to expire on September 26.

But Netanyahu, who heads a coalition dominated by pro-settler parties, has appeared reluctant to take such a step, leading some analysts to predict that the talks could collapse within weeks of their launch.

(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Rachelle Younglai in Washington, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Tom Perry in Ramallah, and Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Jerusalem, editing by Will Dunham)