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Paris Middle East conference postponed

Israeli Prime Minieter Benjamin Netanyahu (L) meets French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault in Jerusalem Saturday
Israeli Prime Minieter Benjamin Netanyahu (L) meets French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault in Jerusalem Saturday Reuters/ MENAHEM KAHANA

France's planned conference on Middle East peace has been postponed, President François Hollande said on Tuesday. The meeting will go ahead in the summer because US Secretary of State cannot attend on the planned date of 30 May.

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It is vital for France to take "a strong initiative" in the dispute, Hollande said.

"If not ... what will happen? Settlement building, attacks," he said.

The original proposed date falls on the US Memorial Day holiday honouring members of the armed forces who have died in combat.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said Monday that Washington is discussing dates "that might work better for the secretary", although he said Kerry's agenda is "jammed".

Israel cool on French intitiative

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault a frosty welcome on Sunday in Jerusalem, casting doubt on France's "impartiality" because French representatives voted for a Unesco resolution on the Al-Aqsa mosque compound that has aroused controversy in Israel.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the French intitiative, which will gather foreign ministers, EU and UN representatives but not the Israelis and Palestinians to try to revive peace talks at a later date.

"We are going to work will all the actors, the big countries and neighbouring nations, to create the parameters that will allow the Israelis and Palestinians to return to the negotiating table," Hollande said Tuesday.

A staunch ally of Israel, Washington has traditionally brokered direct negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians and played down multilateral initiatives, especially within the United Nations.

The United States has regularly called for a "two-state solution" to the Middle East crisis since the last US-brokered talks collapsed in April 2014.

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