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Kerry: Mideast peace deal possible by April

The Secretary of State has made nine visits to the region since taking office in February in campaign to gain momentum and bridge a vast gulf of mutual mistrust

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday Israelis and Palestinians were committed to peace talks, as a full deal could be reached by April.

Kerry, speaking at the end of his second visit to the region in just a week said the two sides were discussing a framework for a final-status accord to resolve the core issues at the heart of the decades-old conflict.

“Both parties remain committed to fulfilling their obligations to stay at the table and negotiate hard during the nine-month period that we set for that,” Kerry said after separate talks with Palestinian and Israeli leaders, according to Reuters.

“We’re not talking at this point about any shifts (in the schedule),” he said, dismissing the pessimistic assessments from both sides on progress in the negotiations brokered by the U.S. which resumed in July after a three-year pause.

The Secretary of State wants the two camps to accept a so-called framework accord that will touch on all the main issues, such as security, the future of Jerusalem and the fate of refugees, and serve as a broad outline for the final deal.

But Palestinians fear such a preliminary agreement could serve to delay once again their hopes of establishing an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem a land the Israelis seized in the 1967 war.

Kerry said his talks over the past two days had focused on security, with retired U.S. General John Allen joining him for the discussions with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Reuters reported.

Israel says its troops have to remain for the next 10 years in the Jordan Valley - along the eastern border of any new Palestinian state to prevent arms and militants from entering the West Bank and launching attacks. Abbas has rejected the idea, but said he would accept seeing U.S. troops deployed along the border.

“We are working on an approach that both guarantees Israel’s security and fully respects Palestinian sovereignty,” Kerry was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said after the top U.S. diplomat’s visit “we want to achieve a peace based on Israel’s withdrawal from lands occupied in 1967,” according to Reuters.

“We won’t accept limiting Palestinian sovereignty over our land,” Erekat said in comments to Al Arabiya News channel.

Kerry has made nine visits to the region since taking office in February in campaign to gain momentum and bridge a vast gulf of mutual mistrust.

“We remain hopeful that we can achieve that final-status agreement. Why? Because we are absolutely confident ... that for both sides, and the region at large, peace can bring enormous benefits,” Kerry said, according to Reuters.

The Secretary of State left Israel later on Friday heading to Vietnam and the Philippines.