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Israeli PM orders ministers to limit contact with Palestinian counterparts

Bishkek (AKIpress) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered his ministers to limit all but diplomatic and security contact with their Palestinian counterparts, a government official said Wednesday, dealing another blow to faltering peace talks.

"In response to the Palestinian violation of their commitments under peace talks... Israel government ministers have been told to refrain from meeting their Palestinian counterparts," the official told AFP, requesting anonymity.

It was the latest in a series of tit-for-tat moves by both sides that threaten to derail already faltering peace talks that US Secretary of State John Kerry fought hard to kick-start in July. The latest move comes after Kerry on Tuesday blamed Israel's approval of Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem for derailing the negotiations, a charge that has left Israeli officials bristling.

At the end of March, Israel refused to release a final batch of long-serving Palestinian prisoners as agreed under the talks, and at the same time approved more than 700 new settler homes in annexed Arab east Jerusalem. The Palestinians responded to the prisoner issue by applying for membership of 15 international treaties, breaking their own commitment to refrain from such action during the nine months of talks that are to end April 29.

While Kerry blamed intransigence on both sides, he told US lawmakers that the delayed Israeli plan to release Palestinian prisoners was sabotaged by the settlements move. "In the afternoon, when they were about to maybe get there, 700 settlement units were announced in Jerusalem and, poof, that was sort of the moment," he testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have teetered on the brink of collapse, with Washington fighting an uphill battle to get the two sides to agree to a framework proposal to extend the negotiations to the year's end. A Palestinian spokesman last month blamed the impasse on Israel's West Bank settlement plans.

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