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Kerry to Travel to Middle East on New Year's Day

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will begin the new year by traveling to the Middle East in another effort to advance the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki announced the trip in a statement on Saturday.

Kerry will travel to Jerusalem on January 1 to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He will then proceed to Ramallah in the West Bank for a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Psaki says that in these meetings, Kerry will discuss the ongoing final status negotiations between the two sides, among other issues.

Word of Kerry's visit comes as Israel prepares to release another group of Palestinian prisoners as a gesture of goodwill. But Israel is also expected to announce plans for building new settlements on territory claimed by the Palestinians.

President Abbas has appealed to the U.S. to block the latest round of settlements, warning the move could jeopardize the U.S.-led peace effort.

The top U.S. diplomat is pushing the Israelis and the Palestinians to reach an interim peace deal ahead of a deadline set to expire in late April.

Kerry has made a Middle East peace agreement a top foreign policy goal and made frequent trips to the region in the past year.

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