RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories (AFP) - US Secretary of State John Kerry will return to the Middle East next week for talks with Palestinian and Israeli officials on the peace process, a Palestinian official said on Saturday.
"Mr Kerry has told the Palestinian Authority he will return to the region on January 4 to discuss the peace process and negotiations with Israel," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
According to a well-informed Palestinian source, the US chief diplomat plans to stay in the Middle East for a "number of days" in what would be his 10th visit to the region since March.
Mr Kerry, who helped to launch nine-month direct talks between the two sides in July, insisted this month that concrete progress had been made in the peace talks.
But he said details would be kept under wraps as talking about any agreements could be counterproductive.
"I'm personally encouraged that very tough issues are beginning to take shape," he said in an interview with ABC television on Dec 15.
"But we've agreed not to be talking about what we're doing because it just creates great expectations. It creates pressure. It creates opposition, in some cases.
"I think it's much better for us to do exactly what we've been doing, which is negotiate quietly and privately," he added.
Israeli and Arab media reports say the plan envisaged by Washington would see Israel maintain a military presence on the border after a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
An international force would be acceptable to the Palestinians, but Israel opposes such a solution.
Israel has always insisted that a continued military presence on the frontier would be vital for its security for some 10 to 15 years after Palestinian statehood.