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Kerry to return to Jerusalem, Ramallah

JERUSALEM (JTA) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will return to Jerusalem and Ramallah in a bid to boost Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

Kerry will leave for the Middle East on Jan. 1, the State Department said Saturday.

Kerry will meet separately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to ” discuss the ongoing final-status negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, among other issues,” the State Dept. said.

Kerry will arrive days after the planned release of 26 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons, the third of four planned releases agreed to in the current round of U.S.-backed peace negotiations. The final release is set for sometime in 2014, before the April deadline set for the end of the current negotiations, at which time a framework agreement is supposed to be announced.

Israeli media reported over the weekend that Kerry has offered to free jailed spy-for-Israel Jonathan Pollard as part of the fourth scheduled release of Palestinian prisoners. However, President Obama reportedly has not signed off on this offer.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said Sunday morning in an interview with Army Radio that there is “no direct link” between Pollard and the peace negotiations.

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