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Kerry says Israel, Palestinians grappling with peace "puzzle"

Source: Reuters - Sun, 5 Jan 2014 08:17 AM
Author: Reuters
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Palestinian demonstrators protest near the Israeli border fence with Gaza as the Israeli army shoots tear gas, January 3, 2014. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
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* US diplomat to brief Saudi Arabia, Jordan

* Feuding sides face tough choices - Kerry

By Arshad Mohammed

JERUSALEM, Jan 5 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday the Israelis and Palestinians were making some progress in peace talks, though there was still a chance no accord would be reached.

Speaking before he flew to Jordan and Saudi Arabia to brief their rulers on the talks, Kerry said both sides had a sharper idea of the compromises needed to secure an agreement despite their deep scepticism on the chances of success.

"This has been a productive couple of days," Kerry told reporters after three days of separate talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. "We have had very positive - but I have to say very serious, very intensive - conversations."

Kerry said all of the major issues in the conflict - borders, security, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem - were under discussion.

"The path is becoming clearer. The puzzle is becoming more defined. And it is becoming much more apparent to everybody what the remaining tough choices are," he said, adding that he would not be flying to meet the kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia if he did not believe both sides were grappling with the issues.

"But I cannot tell you when, particularly, the last pieces may decide to fall into place or may fall on the floor and leave the puzzle unfinished," he added.

During his 10th visit to the region, Kerry had tried to establish what U.S. officials call a "framework" for guidelines for any eventual peace accord.

The U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian negotiations resumed last July after a three-year halt, with Kerry leading the push for an accord within nine months. But both sides have expressed doubts about his efforts.

Palestinians see a major obstacle in Israel's settlements of occupied West Bank land where they seek statehood. Many Israelis doubt Abbas's credibility as a peace partner, especially as Gaza, the other Palestinian territory, is governed by rival Hamas Islamists who opposes peacemaking.

Broad Arab support is viewed as crucial if the Palestinians are to make the compromises likely to prove necessary to strike a deal with Israel. Kerry has also said he plans to meet a group of Arab foreign ministers next weekend.

While giving scant detail on his mediation, Kerry has often said progress was being made. But both Israel and the Palestinians have predicted the nine-month target date for a deal will not be met.

(Writing by Arshad Mohammed and Dan Williams, Editing by Jeffrey Heller)

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