Kerry to return to Mideast this week: Reports

JERUSALEM (AFP) - US Secretary of State John Kerry is to return to the Middle East later this week to resume efforts to draw Israel and the Palestinians back into direct negotiations, reports said on Sunday.

According to the top-selling Yediot Aharonot daily and the left-leaning Haaretz, Mr Kerry was to arrive in Israel towards the end of the week on what would be his sixth visit to the region in as many months.

On his previous visit, a four-day trip which ended on June 30, Mr Kerry held hours and hours of intensive talks with both sides in a mission which he said had achieved "real progress." But the Palestinians said there had been "no breakthrough" that could lead to a resumption of direct negotiations following a hiatus of nearly three years.

"John Kerry is on his way back: the US secretary of state is expected to arrive in Israel for the sixth time towards the end of the week, in order to try and get the negotiations with the Palestinians to move forward," said Yediot.

In his absence, Mr Kerry left behind two aides to continue his work.

Frank Lowenstein, his senior adviser on the peace process, has been meeting "almost daily" with Israeli negotiators Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molho as well as with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat, Haaretz said.

"Lowenstein is trying to get the parties to agree to a document that would contain the principles for the renewal of talks but no agreement has emerged," the paper said.

Several days after Mr Kerry's departure, a Palestinian official told AFP that the US top diplomat had presented the two sides with "an initiative to resume direct and intensive negotiations for a duration of six to nine months in order to reach a peace agreement."

Under the proposal, the talks would be based on a 2011 speech by US President Barack Obama in which he called for a Palestinian state on the basis of the lines which existed before the 1967 Six Day War, but there would be no specific reference to a settlement freeze, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Similar details emerged on Saturday in a report by the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper which quoted Western diplomatic sources as saying the talks would take place within a framework of six to nine months, during which there would be a building freeze outside the major settlement blocs.

It also said Israel would agree to the staggered release of 103 Palestinian prisoners who have been held since before the 1993 Oslo Accords, and would allow the Palestinians to develop projects in Area C of the West Bank, around 60 percent of the territory which is currently under full Israeli control.

Israeli officials were not immediately available to comment on either report.

US-brokered direct talks broke down in September 2010 just weeks after they were launched with the two sides locked in a dispute over settlement building.

Multiple diplomatic efforts to bring about a renewal of negotiations have so far failed.

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