Middle East

Kerry in Israel on eve of Obama visit: police

Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at a reception about the Ross Sea, at the National Geographic Society, Monday, March 18, 2013 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

JERUSALEM: US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Israel on Tuesday, a day ahead of President Barack Obama's milestone visit, police said.

Media reports said that Kerry, who was to accompany Obama on his three-day trip then leave with him for Jordan, would return to Jerusalem on Saturday night in a bid to push for a renewal of peace talks.

Kerry was not expected to meet senior Israeli officials following his arrival, Haaretz said.

Kerry would on Friday travel with Obama to neighbouring Jordan but would return to Jerusalem on Saturday evening for dinner with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to sound him out on the prospects of reviving peace efforts with the Palestinians.

"Kerry wants to hear Netanyahu and... president Mahmud Abbas express their willingness to participate and say what measures they are willing to take to move forward," Haaretz said.

"In particular, Kerry is interested in what Netanyahu is able to do, considering that the majority of his new coalition is against any political compromise (with the Palestinians) and opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state."

A new Israeli governing coalition with a strong showing of pro-settlement hardliners formally took office late on Monday, following weeks of negotiations between parties in the wake of January's general election.

It will be Obama's first visit to Israel and the West Bank as president and former deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon said that it might help allay the sense of hurt the Israeli public felt when he skipped Israel on a tour of Arab countries in 2009.

"It's a correction of maybe some mistakes that were made four years ago when Mr Obama came to the region and passed over Israel," which was seen as "an insult" by the Israeli public, Ayalon told journalists.

"One of the purposes of the visit is to blaze the way for Kerry, who we'll see here often," he added.

A poll released on Tuesday by the independent Israel Democracy Institute showed 51 percent of the Jewish Israeli respondents saying they considered Obama to be neutral in his attitude to Israel, while 53.5 percent did not trust him to safeguard what they perceived to be Israel's vital interests.

The survey said that 23 percent thought he favoured the Palestinians more than the Israelis while 18 percent believed the opposite.

The poll, carried out with Tel Aviv university, questioned 600 people and had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.





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