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Israel-Palestinian peace talks resume after three-year hiatus

Direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians have begun in Washington, D.C. Ahead of the talks, US foreign secretary John Kerry named former ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk as special envoy to guide the talks.

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Long-awaited negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian representatives resumed late Monday in the US capital. Secretary of State John Kerry hosted a dinner at the State Department for Israel's chief negotiator, Tzipi Livni, and her Palestinian counterpart, Saeb Erakat, where they were to begin peace talks.

Also in attendance was Martin Indyk, whom Kerry had named special envoy just hours before the dinner.

Speaking before a press conference, the US foreign secretary said that Indyk would take on the difficult task of attempting to guide both sides to a fully-fledged peace deal. But he said Indyk had the respect and confidence of all involved.

"It's no secret that this is a difficult process, if it were easy it would have happened a long time ago. It's no secret therefore that many difficult choices lie ahead for the negotiators and for the leaders as we seek reasonable compromises on tough, complicated and symbolic issues," Kerry said.

"I think reasonable compromises have to be a keystone of all of this effort," he told reporters.

"To help the parties navigate the path to peace and to avoid as many pitfalls we'll be very fortunate to have on our team on a day-to-day basis, working with the parties wherever they are negotiating, a seasoned American diplomat, ambassador Martin Indyk."

The 62-year-old Indyk is to take leave from his current position as vice president and foreign policy director at the Washinton-based Brookings Institution think tank. He previously served as former President Bill Clinton's ambassador to Israel during which time he took part in the failed 2000 Camp David peace talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Standing alongside Kerry on Monday Indyk said his new role "was a daunting and humbling challenge but one I cannot desist from."

Tuesday is to see a full day of negotiations between Israeli chief negotiator Tzipi Livni and her Palestinian counterpart, Saeb Erakat.

Obama welcomes peace talks

Speaking shortly after Indyk's appointment US President Barack Obama expressed optimism about the impending negotiations - the first face-to-face public meeting between both sides since September 2010.

"This is a promising step forward, though hard work and hard choices remain ahead," Obama said in a statement.

"I am hopeful that both the Israelis and Palestinians will approach these talks in good faith and with sustained focus and determination," he said.

"The United States stands ready to support them throughout these negotiations, with the goal of achieving two states, living side by side in peace and security."

Israel and the Palestinians remain deeply divided over so-called "final status issues," including the fate of Jerusalem, which is claimed by both sides as a capital.

The construction of Israeli settlements across the West Bank is seen as further complicating negotiations over the exact borders of a future Palestinian state and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

In a bid to enable negotiations on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought and won cabinet approval for the controversial release of some Palestinian and Arab prisoners.

kms, ccp/pfd (AFP, AP, Reuters)