LONDON, England (AFP) - US Secretary of State John Kerry met Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in London on Sunday, having earlier insisted that Israelis and Palestinians were determined to pursue direct peace talks.
Kerry and Abbas, who have met regularly over the last six months, kicked off their latest talks at 7.30pm (4.30pm Singapore time).
The pair laughed and joked in the Queen Elizabeth room of London's Ritz Carlton hotel before heading off for their closed-door meeting. No details were due to be released to the press.
The United States's top diplomat arrived in London late afternoon following a stop-off in Paris, which was dominated by the ongoing crisis in Syria and the proposed US-Franco military response.
But Mr Kerry also tackled the Israeli-Palestinian peace process with his Egyptian, Qatari and Saudi counterparts along with representatives from the Arab League.
"Despite tough decisions that have to be made and despite pressure that exists on both sides... both the Palestinians and Israelis have remained steadfast in their commitment to continuing the talks," Mr Kerry said in Paris after a meeting with Arab League officials.
Mr Kerry also said he planned to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "shortly" to discuss peace efforts.
In regards to the talks with Arab League officials, Mr Kerry said: "We all of us agreed that a final status agreement is important in enhancing regional security and stability throughout the Middle East." Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah however criticised Israel for continuing to build Jewish settlements, saying it was damaging peace efforts.
"We are talking about the settlements, what we noticed is that each time a round of negotiations is to start it's preceded by an announcement of settlements," he said.
This "directly affects the negotiations", Mr Attiyah said.
Direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians resumed on July 29, after Mr Kerry shuttled between Jerusalem, the West Bank and Amman for several months seeking to end a three-year stalemate in the negotiations.
The two sides have since met three times in August and in early September in Jerusalem.
In line with Mr Kerry's desire to keep the details of the negotiations secret in order to give the process a chance to work, little has leaked about the talks.
Ahead of the first bilateral meetings in Jerusalem on Aug 14, Israel announced plans to build more than 2,000 Jewish settler homes on Palestinian territory, in a move that angered Palestinian negotiators.
Kerry also urged the European Union to suspend new guidelines introduced in July forbidding its 28 member states from dealing with or funding any Israeli "entities" in the occupied Palestinian territories, including the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Mr Netanyahu said last month that the EU's stance was hampering peace talks by hardening Palestinian positions.
"I did ask the European community if they would consider a suspension," Mr Kerry said. "It's not asking them to change the policy, it's asking them to suspend or delay its implementation while these talks are taking place."