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Kerry in Israel on eve of Obama visit

US Secretary of State John Kerry, on March 5, 2013 in Qatar
US Secretary of State John Kerry, pictured here on March 5, 2013, arrived in Israel on Tuesday, a day ahead of President Barack Obama's milestone visit, police said.

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Israel Tuesday and was expected to attend some meetings a day ahead of President Barack Obama's milestone visit, US officials said.

"The secretary is in Israel, in advance of the president's arrival," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington.

She added Kerry was expected to "have a meeting or two, in preparation for the president's arrival" but added the "schedule was being worked out."

Nuland did not confirm however Israeli media reports that Kerry, who will accompany Obama on his three-day trip and travel together to Jordan, would then return to Jerusalem on Saturday to push for renewed peace talks.

Haaretz daily said Kerry would have dinner with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday night to sound him out on the prospects of reviving peace efforts with the Palestinians.

"Kerry wants to hear Netanyahu and... president Mahmud Abbas express their willingness to participate and say what measures they are willing to take to move forward," Haaretz said.

"In particular, Kerry is interested in what Netanyahu is able to do, considering that the majority of his new coalition is against any political compromise (with the Palestinians) and opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state."

A new Israeli governing coalition with a strong showing of pro-settlement hardliners formally took office late on Monday, after weeks of negotiations following January's general election.

It will be Obama's first visit to Israel and the West Bank as president and former deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon said it might help allay the sense of hurt the Israeli public felt when he skipped Israel on a tour of Arab countries in 2009.

"It's a correction of maybe some mistakes that were made four years ago when Mr Obama came to the region and passed over Israel," which was seen as "an insult" by the Israeli public, Ayalon told journalists.

"One of the purposes of the visit is to blaze the way for Kerry, who we'll see here often," he added.

A poll released on Tuesday by the independent Israel Democracy Institute showed 51 percent of the Jewish Israeli respondents considered Obama to be neutral in his attitude to Israel, while 53.5 percent did not trust him to safeguard what they perceived to be Israel's vital interests.

The survey said 23 percent thought he favoured the Palestinians more than the Israelis while 18 percent believed the opposite.

The poll, carried out with Tel Aviv University, questioned 600 people and had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.

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