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Kerry on new Mideast bid as Israel stresses security

Kerry on new Mideast bid as Israel stresses security

Jerusalem: US Secretary of State John Kerry met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his latest bid to revive Middle East talks.

On his fifth visit in as many months, Kerry spent close to four hours at a "working dinner" with Netanyahu in a Jerusalem hotel.

The content of their talks was not immediately made public.

Kerry was to drive to Amman after the meeting ended in the early hours of Friday to meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, with possible further shuttling if he sees an opening.

At the start of their meeting Kerry and Netanyahu shook hands for the cameras but did not speak to reporters.

Kerry, who met Jordan's King Abdullah II in Amman before his brief trip to Jerusalem, is seeking to break a three-year stalemate and restart direct negotiations that would ultimately lead to an independent Palestinian state.

Netanyahu earlier set the tone for the meeting by saying that security was "a basic condition" for peace.

"Peace rests on security. It is not based on goodwill or legitimacy as some think. It is based, first and foremost, on our ability to defend ourselves," he told a ceremony marking the anniversary of the death of Theodor Herzl, the founding father of Zionism.

The remarks come after the Haaretz newspaper quoted an anonymous "senior cabinet member" from Netanyahu's Likud party as saying the premier would be ready to give up almost all of the West Bank if Israel's security needs were met.

Netanyahu had tense relations with President Barack Obama during the US leader's first term over the peace process. But an Israeli minister said Netanyahu increasingly saw a strategic interest for resuming peace talks.

"Netanyahu knows there will be a painful evacuation of a number of settlements that are not in the settlement blocs, and that there will be a land swap," Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri told army radio.

"Netanyahu is much more ready than in the past, whether it's for ideological or practical reasons, for an immediate return to the negotiating table," said Peri, of the centrist Yesh Atid party.

But Netanyahu emerged from January elections with an even more right-leaning cabinet.

The day before Kerry's arrival, an Israeli planning committee granted final approval for the construction of 69 new settler homes in annexed east Jerusalem.

Yesterday Britain and France issued statements condemning the move as illegal under international law and liable to jeopardise peace efforts.

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