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US Looks to Continue Mideast Peace Effort

A senior U.S. official says Washington is keeping up efforts to put Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations back on track despite "unhelpful steps" taken by both sides in the past day.

The senior U.S. State Department official told reporters in Brussels Wednesday that "neither party has given any indication they want to end the negotiations."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has spoken separately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Sources close to the talks said Israeli, Palestinian and U.S. negotiators also are set to meet late Wednesday.

A surprise decision by Mr. Abbas on Tuesday to sign more than a dozen international conventions that could give Palestinians greater leverage against Israel left the United States searching for a way to keep the talks alive past an April 29 deadline.

Mr. Abbas' action came as Kerry's mediation efforts appeared in trouble. Kerry had set an April 29 deadline to reach basic outlines of an Israeli-Palestinian deal, but in recent weeks has pushed to extend the talks until the end of the year.

Palestinian officials have said Israel offered to show "restraint" on settlement building, including suspending government tenders for new construction, if talks are extended into 2015.

An Israeli anti-settlement group, Peace Now, says the offer is meaningless because thousands of apartments have already been planned or are under construction. The Palestinians seek a complete settlement freeze if negotiations are to be extended.

Israel Tuesday renewed a call for contractor bids on more than 700 homes in Gilo, an Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem.

The Palestinians, along with much of the international community, view settlement construction as illegal and an obstacle to the creation of their hoped-for state. Israel has built dozens of settlements, now home to more than 550,000 Israelis, on occupied lands.

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