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Kerry claims progress despite returning home empty-handed

US Secretary of State John Kerry has headed home after failing to get Israel and the Palestinians to agree to a framework peace deal. Despite this, Kerry insisted as he left the region that progress had been made.

As John Kerry flew back to Washington after having spent four days shuttling between meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the two sides appeared to remain far apart on some of the details of his proposed framework for peace.

According to a report in the Israeli newspaper Maariv, during the course of their discussions, Kerry pressed Prime Minister Netanyahu to accept a formula which would allow for the return of Palestinians who were expelled or fled from their homes as the Jewish state was being created in 1948.

According to the paper, Netanyahu refused. It also reported that the Israelis were seeking to extend an

April deadline for negotiations on a framework to be completed

by January 2015, in return for freezing some settlement construction activity.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press cited an unnamed senior Palestinian official who said they too had major reservations about what Kerry had proposed, particularly with regard to the future of east Jerusalem. The Palestinians want to make east Jerusalem the capital of a future state, but according to the AP report, what Kerry is proposing refers to Palestinian "aspirations" for East Jerusalem without mentioning it as a future capital.

No official word

Kerry and other US officials have been tight-lipped on the details of what was discussed, but it was clear to reporters travelling on Kerry's plane back to the US that a lot of hard work still remained.

"At some point there will be a document with the ideas from both parties, but we're not going to make a prediction of when that will be," an unnamed State Department official aboard the plane told reporters, according to the AFP news agency.

It also wasn't clear when Kerry, who has just completed his 10th visit to the region since being named secetary of state less than a year ago, would return. Some reports suggested that he could be back as soon as next week, but the State Department official on his plane seemed to play down this possibility.

"We want to give the negotiators time to lay the groundwork for a trip that would be productive," the official said.

More settlement homes

Meanwhile, just hours before Kerry left the region, Israel published plans to build 272 more homes in settlments in the occupied West Bank.

An Israeli defense official said the initial approval for new construction in the Ofra and Karnei Shomron settlements had been granted serveral months ago.

Palestinians fear Israeli settlements built on occupied land, which are regarded as illegal by the United Nations, will deny them a viable future state. They have also warned that further construction could derail Kerry's push for peace.

pfd/se (dpa, AFP, AP)

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