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Kerry heads to Israel as peace talks near collapse

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JERUSALEM: The Palestinians rejected an Israeli proposal for extending negotiations on Monday as Washington´s top diplomat was due to fly in on his latest mission to salvage the crisis-hit peace talks.

 

Shortly after US Secretary of State John Kerry took off from Paris for an unscheduled visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, a Palestinian official confirmed that Ramallah had rejected an Israeli offer to extend talks beyond an April 29 deadline.

 

US peace efforts are teetering on the brink of collapse after Israel refused to free a group of 26 veteran Palestinian prisoners under an agreement which brought the sides back to the negotiating table in July 2013.

 

Speaking in Paris, a senior US official said Kerry would possibly hold meetings in Jerusalem and the West Bank town of Ramallah over Monday and Tuesday.

 

Kerry´s arrival in Tel Aviv is likely to coincide with a 1600 GMT meeting of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah which was called by president Mahmud Abbas to discuss the latest standoff.

 

Furious Palestinian officials have warned that unless Israel changes its stance on the prisoner releases, it could signal the end of the talks.

 

News of Kerry´s unscheduled trip was confirmed by US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, who said his team had been working with both parties to "agree on a path forward."

 

"After consulting with his team, Secretary Kerry decided it would be productive to return to the region," she told reporters in Paris shortly before departing for Tel Aviv.

 

Washington has been fighting an uphill battle to coax the two sides into accepting a framework proposal which would extend the negotiations beyond April 29 to the end of the year.

 

But the question of extending the talks has become intricately tied up with the fate of the 26 prisoners.

 

Just a day ahead of the expected releases, Israel said it would not free detainees convicted of deadly attacks unless the Palestinians would commit to extending the negotiations.

 

But the Palestinians say they will not even discuss any extension of the negotiating period unless Israel frees the prisoners.

 

The impasse has triggered "intense" US efforts to resolve the dispute, with Kerry speaking with both sides earlier on Monday.

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01.04.2014 (01.04.2014)
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