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Israeli minister Moshe Yaalon apologizes to Kerry after newspaper salvo

Israel's defense minister has issued an apology and praise for US Secretary of State John Kerry, hours after he was quoted in the domestic press launching a verbal attack on Kerry's "obsession" with Middle East peace.

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon issued two statements, both in Hebrew and English, late on Tuesday apologizing to US Secretary of State John Kerry, following critical quotes attributed to the Israeli minister in the domestic press.

Yaalon was quoted as saying that the current US-sponsored plan for security arrangements in the revived, but

faltering peace talks

with the Palestinians, "isn't worth the paper it was written on."

"Secretary of State John Kerry - who arrived here determined, and who operates from an incomprehensible obsession and a sense of messianism - can't teach me anything about the conflict with the Palestinians," Yaalon reportedly told the Yediot Aharonot paper. "The only thing that might save us is if John Kerry wins the Nobel Prize and leaves us be."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized his minister's tone in the Knesset on Tuesday, albeit steering clear of the content of Yaalon's comments. Netanyahu said that even when Israel and the US disagreed, there was no need for personal insults.

Yaalon later issued a statement saying the two countries "share a common goal to advance peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians," eventually issuing a second bilingual statement.

Moshe Yaalon, in a 2011 archive photo.

Yaalon later sought a conciliatory tone

"The defense minister had no intention to cause any offence to the secretary, and he apologizes if the secretary was offended by the remarks attributed to the minister," the ministry later said.

Shuttle diplomacy

Since the talks restarted, Kerry has made 10 visits to the region,

one of them this month,

pushing for a deal in talks that are scheduled to finish in April with a "framework" for a two-state solution.

President Barack Obama's spokesman Jay Carney had said that Yaalon's remarks "if accurate, are offensive and inappropriate, especially in the light of everything Secretary Kerry is doing to support Israel's security needs."

The two sides agreed to restart negotiations last summer, but continuing

tenders for fresh Israeli settler homes

in the Palestinian Territories have proved one source of ongoing friction. Yaalon is a strong advocate of settlement building, a move the US has described as "illegitimate." The talks have also coincided with another source of strain on US-Israeli ties. Israel publicly opposed the international deal forged late last year with Iran aiming to curb its alleged nuclear ambitions, in exchange for gradually rolling back some sanctions against Tehran.

German Foreign Minister

Frank-Walter Steinmeier also visited the region

on Monday; his timetable was notably altered, however, by Israeli ceremonies to honor former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

msh/slk (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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