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March 27, 2014

Kerry Trying to Boost Mideast Peace Talks Amid Challenges

by VOA News

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will continue working with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in the coming days, as he tries push their peace talks through a set of challenges that threaten to derail process.

Kerry held what the State Department called "productive talks" Wednesday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman, and also spoke by telephone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The two sides are eight months into what they agreed would be nine months of talks.

The deal they struck last year to resume negotiating also called for Israel to set free Palestinian prisoners in several rounds of releases, with the fourth one due this Saturday.

However, Israel wants the Palestinians to agree to extend the peace talks beyond next month before they set that final group free. Palestinian officials have said they will quit the talks if the detainees are not released as promised.

Adding to the pressure Wednesday was a declaration by Arab leaders saying they will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The 22-member Arab League issued a statement at a summit in Kuwait rejecting any consideration of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.

Netanyahu has insisted that Palestinian leaders recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

The peace talks are likely to be on the agenda Friday as Kerry travels with U.S. President Barack Obama to Saudi Arabia to meet with King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud.

The parties involved in the Middle East peace talks have not publicly discussed the details of the negotiations, but there has been little visible progress on narrowing gaps on major issues. These include the status of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees, borders and security.