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Mideast peace bid battered

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JERUSALEM – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s closed-door diplomacy to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians has burst into a public spat, with both sides trading blistering criticisms, Republican senators showing up in Jerusalem to argue Israel’s side and Palestinian demonstrators protesting Kerry’s visit.

Kerry is on his 10th visit to the region to try to craft a peace treaty that would create a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

He met for three hours Friday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Later in the day, Kerry traveled to Ramallah, West Bank, to speak with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Although battered by sniping from all sides, Kerry remained upbeat – at least publicly. Asked if he was making progress, Kerry replied that progress is being made every day.

Earlier, about 150 Palestinians demonstrators marched through downtown Ramallah to protest Kerry’s visit. They carried Palestinian flags and signs that said: “The northern, central and southern Jordan Valley are a genuine part of Palestinian sovereignty.” The West Bank’s Jordan Valley is a strategic area that Israeli hard-liners, including members of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, say must be annexed by Israel for its own security.

The two sides have engaged in about 20 rounds of negotiations, now in a more intense phase. Kerry is asking both leaders to start making tough, highly political decisions in hopes of narrowing differences and agree on a framework that will outline a final peace pact.

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