U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says Mideast peace talks are at a "critical moment" and that it is up to Israeli and Palestinian leaders to keep the process alive.

During a visit to Algeria, Kerry said Thursday that outsiders can push and nudge, but that the two sides themselves must make "fundamental decisions and compromises."

"The leaders have to lead and they have to be able to see a moment when its there."

Kerry has spent the past few weeks trying to keep the negotiations going as the process closes in on the end of the initial nine-month period that Israeli and the Palestinians agreed to last year.

A senior State Department official said Wednesday that neither party had said they wanted to end the talks. U.S., Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met Wednesday night.

The senior State Department official also said each side had taken "unhelpful steps."

Israel declined to carry out the release of a final group of Palestinian prisoners, and on Tuesday renewed a call for contractor bids on more than 700 homes in an East Jerusalem settlement.

Also Tuesday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed more than a dozen international conventions in a bid for greater Palestinian recognition.

The Palestinians' foreign minister said the action was not likely to provoke U.S. sanctions because it was limited to agencies and accords dealing with social and human rights instead of seeking full membership in U.N. bodies.