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Kerry: all sides must 'pause' to reassess Middle East peace talks

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have been put on hold, says US Secretary of State John Kerry. Negotiations ground to a halt last week, just days before the final deadline for an outline agreement.

Negotiators involved in drafting an outline for an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan failed to meet their deadline this week, after working for roughly nine months with little success. It wasn't until Thursday that US Secretary of State John Kerry, who launched the initiative, commented on passing of the April 29 deadline.

"We believe the best thing to do right now is pause, take a hard look at these things and find out what is possible and what is not possible in the days ahead," Kerry told reporters during visit to the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa on Thursday.

Progress during the span of the negotiations has been marked by an unwillingness on both governments' parts to accept key preconditions. Israel, for its part, has continued approving settlements for disputed territories. On the other hand, Palestinian leaders have continued to refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Surprise pact

However, it wasn't until last week that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the suspension of peace talks, citing a surprise political pact among Palestinian leaders which was viewed by Israel as a threat to national security.

In 2007, Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel, seized the Gaza Strip from forces loyal to Fatah's president, Mahmoud Abbas. Since then, Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) have ruled the West Bank.

Suddenly last week, Hamas and Fatah announced their intention to form a "national consensus" government in coming weeks, ending years of political division. They are to hold national elections in six months that would make the Palestinian territories to Israel's west and east, respectively, one political entity.

In response to the unexpected agreement, the Israeli Cabinet refused to resume talks if they included Hamas, "a terrorist organization that calls for the destruction of Israel," a statement issued last week said.

Kerry still optimistic

On Thursday, US Secretary of State Kerry expressed optimism that talks would, in fact, resume.

"Both parties still indicate that they feel it's important to negotiate and want to find a way to negotiate," Kerry said.

kms/ipj (AP, Reuters)

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