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White House confirms delegation to visit Mideast in another push for peace talks

Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, left, meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, March 13, 2017.
Kobi Gideon/GPO
Trump said he remains 'optimistic that peace is possible'

An American delegation including US president Donald Trump's special Middle East Envoy Jason Greenblatt and Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, will arrive in the region in the coming weeks for another attempt at restarting peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, a White House official confirmed in a statement Friday.

Trump has been "personally committed to reaching a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians," said the statement adding that the recent Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif crisis has created an opportunity "to continue discussions and the pursuit of peace that began early in his administration."

Tensions escalated between Israel and the Palestinians after three Palestinians shot and killed two Israeli policemen at the ultra-sensitive holy site and the Israeli government upped security measures around the compound in response.

After the incident, metal detectors were put in place around the Al Aqsa mosque, considered the third holiest site to Muslims, enraging Palestinian worshipers who refused to enter, inspiring mass protests and violent clashes that killed five Palestinian youths.

AHMAD GHARABLI (AFP)

Three Israelis were also killed when a Palestinian assailant, who professed to be motivated by the crisis over the holy site, stabbed them to death inside their home in a settlement north of Ramallah

The Trump administration eventually waded into the escalating crisis last month, attempting to sketch out a solution to the impasse along with Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, the official custodian of the compound.

The US did not demand the removal of the metal detectors but Israel eventually conceded to Palestinian demands.

AHMAD GHARABLI (AFP)

While the flare up has died down, tensions remain strained between Israel and the Palestinian Authority as president Mahmoud Abbas has insisted all ties remain frozen.

Despite the recent crisis, President Trump has reiterated that while reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement will be difficult, he "remains optimistic that peace is possible."

The official also noted that Trump reaffirms the process can only be directly negotiated between the two parties, but the United States will continue to work closely with them.

Trump also asked that the upcoming discussions with leaders across the region including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority be focused on the path not only to the "substantive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks" but to combating extremism and the humanitarian situation in Gaza as well.

Greenblatt tweeted shortly following the White House announcement confirming the visit saying that he looked forward to returning to the Middle East, adding that the President is "optimistic."


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