China urges Israel to make "brave" decisions on peace talks

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's President Xi Jinping urged Israel to make "brave" decisions on the latest round of peace talks with the Palestinians, after negotiators ended another United States-mediated session with no sign of a breakthrough.

"At present, the Israeli-Palestinian talks process has entered a crucial stage; there are opportunities and also many difficulties," Mr Xi told visiting Israeli President Shimon Peres, China's Foreign Ministry said late on Tuesday.

"(China) hopes that Israel keeps in mind the broader picture of peace, shows strategic wisdom, makes brave decisions as early as possible, and pushes, along with the international community and Palestinians, for substantive progress on peace talks," Mr Xi added.

The US-brokered negotiations, which began in July, plunged into crisis last week after Israel, demanding a Palestinian commitment to continue talking beyond an April 29 deadline for a peace deal, failed to carry out a promised release of about two dozen Palestinian prisoners.

China has traditionally had a low profile in Middle East diplomacy despite its reliance on oil imports from there, but is keen to assert its role as a force in international politics.

Last year, Mr Xi met both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, urging them to revive discussions.

Mr Xi, who took office in March last year, did not outline any specific proposals for the peace talks, saying simply that China would keep "playing a constructive role".

Mr Xi said the Chinese and Jewish peoples had long had friendly relations, pointing out China's role in fighting "fascism and militarism" during World War II.

Beijing has maintained close relations with the Palestinians for decades. In recent years, it has also cultivated ties with Israel, though Israel is wary of China's links with Iran.

China, Iran's top oil customer and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, has opposed unilateral sanctions on Teheran, such as those imposed by Washington and the European Union, and has called repeatedly for talks to resolve the stand-off over Iran's contested nuclear programme.

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