Kerry to meet with Palestine’s Abbas

Rome - US Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Amman Wednesday, interrupting a visit to Italy to meet with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas on peace talks with Israel.

Kerry's trip aims “to continue to narrow the gaps between the parties”, spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said Tuesday, adding that the US diplomatic chief would also be in touch with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “over the phone or by video conference”.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. File picture: Alain Jocard. Credit: AFP

His unexpected visit - setting off from the Italian capital just hours after arriving - came as fresh tensions rose over the peace talks, which Kerry is struggling to keep on track beyond an April 29 deadline.

Arab leaders meeting Tuesday in Kuwait were expected to back a Palestinian refusal to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, an Israeli demand that threatens to derail the talks.

In a draft statement endorsed by foreign ministers, the summit stressed a “categorical rejection” of the demand for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and rejected “all pressures exerted on the Palestinian leadership” to force it into agreeing.

Negotiations also risked being waylaid by a row over the release of prisoners by Israel.

Israel pledged when talks began in July to release 104 veteran Palestinian prisoners in four batches, in exchange for the Palestinians refraining from pursuing legal action against the Jewish state in international courts.

But after the release of a total of 78 inmates so far, Israeli cabinet ministers have warned that the remaining prisoners will not be freed on March 29 unless the Palestinians agree to extend the talks beyond their April 29 deadline.