Qatar to ease Palestinian debt, peace talks intensify: Kerry
PARIS (Reuters) - Qatar has agreed to provide $150 million in debt relief to the Palestinian Authority, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday as he announced that Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are intensifying.
Speaking after he briefed Arab states about the direct peace negotiations, which resumed on July 29 with a goal of reaching an agreement within nine months, Kerry told reporters that the two sides have increased the pace of their discussions.
The Israelis and Palestinians have held 13 meetings since the talks got going after a nearly three-year hiatus, including three meetings in the last four days, Kerry said at a joint news conference with Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah.
He also said that the government of Qatar would offer the debt relief to the donor-dependent Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and faces mounting debt as Western and Gulf aid has dwindled.
"The two parties have been engaged now in 13 meetings - serious meetings. They had three meetings in the last four days," Kerry said. "All the core issues are on the table. And they have been meeting with increased intensity."
He also praised Qatar for the debt relief, about which he provided no further details, saying: "for everybody to live up to the challenges of making peace, we have to support them, including living up to our obligations on the economic front."
Welcoming Qatar's move, Kerry said he expected other Arab countries would follow in its steps although no economic package could be a substitute for political efforts to seek peace.
"I'm confident that other Arab governments are currently evaluating and making their decisions and there will be others that join in this initiative as we go forward," Kerry said.
While the pace of the meetings between the Israelis and the Palestinians may have picked up, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have not met since the negotiations resumed.
Kerry meets Netanyahu in Rome on Wednesday for talks that will cover both the Iranian nuclear program - which the United States and Israel suspect may be a cover to develop nuclear weapons, although Tehran denies this - and the peace process.
The United States is seeking to broker an agreement in which Israel would exist peacefully alongside a new Palestinian state created in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, lands captured by the Israelis in a 1967 war.
The core issues include the delineation of borders, the future of Jewish settlements on the West Bank - some of which Israel wishes to keep - the fate of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem.
(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Writing by Leigh Thomas and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Alison Williams and Eric Walsh)
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