Kerry to discuss Israeli-Palestinian talks

Washington: US Secretary of State John Kerry is to travel to Jordan Wednesday in a bid to salvage the faltering peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the State Department said Tuesday.

The top American envoy was breaking off his current trip to Europe with President Barack Obama, as the two sides were wrangling over the release of more Palestinian prisoners, an issue that is threatening to scuttle the talks scheduled to expire by this Saturday, Xinhua reported.

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State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said Kerry, now in Rome, will meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and speak to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the phone or videoconference in Amman, the capital of Jordan.

She told reporters at a daily news briefing that Kerry will try to “narrow the gaps” between the parties and work on a framework that will guide future negotiations by sketching the outlines of an accord, as Washington is seeking to extend the talks beyond the original deadline.

When the US-brokered peace talks resumed in late July last year, Israel agreed to release 104 veteran Palestinian prisoners in four batches and has set free 78 prisoners so far.

Israeli officials said if the Palestinians refuse to extend the peace negotiations, the remaining prisoners will not be released. For their part, the Palestinians are rejecting linking the prisoners’ release to the talks’ extension, and have threatened to approach international organisations to sue Israel for not meeting its commitments.

Kerry had aimed for a deal within nine months on issues including security, border, the status of Jerusalem and refugees, but the parties have been wrangling over other intractable issues like settlement building on the occupied land and security arrangements.