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Kerry to meet Abbas, may visit camp for Syrian refugees

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry steps off his plane upon his arrival at Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, July 16, 2013. REUTERS
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry steps off his plane upon his arrival at Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, July 16, 2013. REUTERS

By Arshad Mohammed

AMMAN (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry began a round of discussions in Jordan on Tuesday in his push to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and address the crisis in Syria.

Meeting Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, Kerry raised the possibility of visiting a refugee camp housing some of the 400,000 refugees who have fled to Jordan to escape Syria's civil war.

Kerry, on his sixth visit to the region since he took office on February 1, was due to have dinner with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as he tries to nudge the Palestinians and Israelis toward reviving talks that collapsed nearly three years ago.

On Wednesday, he was to meet officials from the Arab League, which in 2002 put forward a proposal that offered full Arab recognition of Israel if it gave up land seized in a 1967 war and accepted a "just solution" for Palestinian refugees.

After a round of shuttle diplomacy between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the end of June, Kerry said that "with a little more work, the start of final status negotiations could be within reach".

But there is deep skepticism among diplomats and Middle East analysts that the Israelis and Palestinians will resume peace talks, and some regard the issue as less pressing than Syria's civil war, the Egyptian army's overthrow of President Mohamed Mursi and Iran's nuclear program.

Israeli officials said they were unaware of any plans by Kerry to visit Israel during his latest trip.

Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking broke down in 2010 in a dispute over Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want for an independent state.

FREEZE DEMANDED

Abbas has said that, for new talks to be held, Netanyahu must freeze the settlements and recognize the West Bank's boundary before its capture by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war as the basis for the future Palestine's border.

Israel, seeking to keep major settlement blocs under any peace accord and citing security concerns, balks at those terms.

"We are saying clearly, we are ready to sit at the table immediately without preconditions, and to discuss everything," Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon told reporters in northern Israel.

"Not to meet once or twice, rather to enter into a long-term discussion. At this stage, the Palestinians are not willing to come without preconditions and therefore, as things stand now, this initiative has not succeeded," he said.

Kerry has sought to ensure that any new peace process would have broad backing from Arab states, which, if they were to offer Israel a comprehensive peace, could provide a strong incentive for Israeli compromises.

The core issues that need to be settled in the more than six-decade-old dispute include borders, the fate of Palestinian refugees, the future of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the status of Jerusalem.

Kerry made clear that the civil war in Jordan's northern neighbor Syria was also on his mind.

"We may wind up visiting one of the refugee camps as we talk about Syria," he said as he posed for pictures with Judeh at an Amman hotel. He did not say which camp he might visit, or when he might go.

(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Alistair Lyon)

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