Middle East

'Hard decisions' needed for Middle East peace - Kerry

Israeli soldiers walk in the West Bank settlement of Beit El
Image caption Palestinians say Israeli settlement building in the West Bank must halt before talks begin

US Secretary of State John Kerry has said "hard decisions" will be needed for peace after two days of talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Mr Kerry met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during the latest talks.

It is Mr Kerry's fourth visit to the region since taking office in February.

The last round of direct talks between the two sides broke down two years ago over the issue of settlements.

"We are reaching the time [when] leaders need to make hard decisions," Mr Kerry told reporters.

Mr Kerry called on Israel to prevent further settlement building where possible in the West Bank but stopped short of calling for a total freeze.

"I made clear in my discussions [with Mr Netanyahu] that the parties should be focused on making progress toward ... direct negotiations," Mr Kerry told reporters.

Each side needed to "refrain from provocative rhetoric or actions ... that take us backwards," he added.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague visited Israel and the West Bank on Thursday. He warned that time was running out for a two-state solution.

"The prospects of a two-state solution cannot be kept alive forever as the situation changes," he said during a visit to Ramallah.

Palestinian officials want all settlement activity in the West Bank to stop before they return to negotiations with Israel.

Israel says it will not accept any preconditions for talks.

Last week the Israeli government took steps to authorise four Jewish settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli settlements in the West Bank are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

Mr Kerry brought "nothing new" to his discussions with Mr Abbas, one Palestinian official familiar with the talks told Associated Press news agency.

Palestinian expectations remain low because they see Mr Kerry "trying to accommodate the Israelis, not pressure the Israelis," the official added.

The main issues to be addressed in a peace agreement include borders, the future of Jewish settlements, the status of Jerusalem and fate of Palestinian refugees.

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