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Kerry heads to West Bank to push for renewed peace talks

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks on the phone at Mafraq Air Base before boarding a helicopter to Amman, after visiting Zaatari refu
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks on the phone at Mafraq Air Base before boarding a helicopter to Amman, after visiting Zaatari refu

AMMAN (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was due to travel to the West Bank to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday, U.S. and Palestinian officials said, in a last-ditch effort to clinch a renewal of peace talks with Israel.

Kerry met Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in Amman on Friday and had been consulting Israeli officials by telephone, a U.S. official said, but did not say if a breakthrough was near.

A State Department official in Amman said Kerry would go to Ramallah in the afternoon to see Abbas, but did not disclose his proposals to revive peace talks that broke down in 2010.

The Palestinian leadership on Thursday did not accept Kerry's latest plan, but signaled that it was leaving the door open for him to continue his peace push.

Negotiations, which have ebbed and flowed over two decades, collapsed in late 2010 in a dispute over Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, territories it captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

The Palestinians want that land as part of an independent state and have demanded Israel halt all settlement construction and recognize the pre-war lines as the basis for negotiations over the future state's borders before peace talks begin.

A Palestinian official said Erekat had told Kerry the Palestinians were ready to return to negotiations if Israel agreed that talks be based in principle on the 1967 borders.

"We also have some clarifications needed in relation to (Israeli) settlement and (the release of Palestinian) prisoners," a Palestinian official said.

An Israeli government spokesman could not be reached for comment on Kerry's visit. Israel has balked at the Palestinians' demands and says talks should resume with no preconditions.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin said to establish a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders would be "suicidal".

"A negotiation in which you first say what you are willing to give up ... is not the kind of negotiation that leads to good results in the Middle East," Elkin told Israel Radio.

Kerry, on his sixth peacemaking visit to the region since March, was due to return to the United States later on Friday.

(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Amman, Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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