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Erekat says no breakthrough as Kerry hails 'real progress'

June 30, 2013 4:19 P.M. (Updated: July 2, 2013 9:48 A.M.)
TEL AVIV (AFP) -- PLO official Saeb Erekat said on Sunday that there had been no breakthrough in marathon US-led efforts to revive direct peace talks but Washington's top diplomat said there had been "real progress".

"There has been no breakthrough so far and there is still a gap between the Palestinian and Israeli positions," chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erakat told reporters after US Secretary of State John Kerry finished talks in Ramallah with President Mahmoud Abbas, his third meeting in as many days.

But Kerry, however, insisted he had held "very positive" discussions with both sides since starting his intense shuttle diplomacy in Jerusalem on Thursday evening.

And he said that with "a little more work" the start of final status talks "could be within reach".

"I am pleased to tell you that we have made real progress on this trip and I believe that with a little more work, the start of final status negotiations could be within reach," Kerry told reporters at Ben Gurion airport just before leaving for Brunei.

"We started out with very wide gaps and we have narrowed those considerably," he said, describing them as "very narrow".

"We have some specific details and work to pursue but I am absolutely confident that we are on the right track and that all the parties are working in very good faith in order to get to the right place."

Asked if Israel's settlement building had hampered efforts to achieve a breakthrough, he said: "The answer is no, there are any number of obstacles, but we are working through them.

"We have to have the courage to stay at this and to make some tough decisions," he said.

Kerry, who has over the last four days spent a total 13 hours in talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and another six with Abbas, said he would return to the region without saying when.

"I'm going to come back because both leaders have asked me to," he said.

So far, Israel has flatly refused to countenance any return to the 1967 lines.

"Netanyahu and his government are not serious about establishing a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, they speak of a state without clear borders, and we need clarity according to international resolutions," said Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior official of Abbas's ruling Fatah party.

"We are ready to resume negotiations according to our clear guidelines," he told Voice of Palestine.

"Even with regards to the prisoners' issue, Israel did not provide any clear answer. We want a serious process to be launched," he said.

In another move likely to spark tension, Israel army radio said an Israeli committee was poised to push through a big discount for buyers of nearly 1,000 new homes which are due to be built in annexed East Jerusalem.

Last week, on the eve of Kerry's arrival, another local committee gave final approval to build some 70 homes in the same area.
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