BEN GURION AIRPORT, Israel  - US Secretary of State John kerry touched down at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv Thursday, starting a visit to israel and the Palestinian territories to push peace talks forward.
kerry arrived on schedule at around 2:00 pm (1200 GMT) on a four-day visit, his 10th to the region since taking office in March, an AFP correspondent travelling with the top US diplomat said.
He was to hold talks in Jerusalem later in the day with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, launching what is expected to be an intense process of shuttling back and forth between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
kerry has faced fierce opposition from both sides to any compromise on mostly irreconcilable demands since he kick-started direct negotiations in July after a three-year hiatus.
Kerry’s visit comes as Palestinian and Israeli leaders accuse each other of lacking serious commitment to achieve a lasting peace after decades of conflict.
A State Department official told AFP ahead of the four-day trip that kerry aims to hammer out a framework to guide the sides through the tough final months of talks , due to end in late April after an agreed nine-month negotiating period.
kerry and his team, led by special envoy and former ambassador Martin Indyk, hope to have the framework in place soon, addressing the core issues. These include the contours of the borders of a future Palestinian state, the fate of Jerusalem which is claimed by both sides as their capital, and Palestinian refugees.
The Palestinians want borders based on the 1967 lines that existed before the Six-Day War, when israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem. But israel wants to hold onto existing settlements it has built inside occupied Palestinian territory since then.
On security, israel wants to maintain a military presence in the Jordan Valley, where the West Bank borders Jordan, under any future peace deal. The Palestinians reject this demand, seeking instead for an international force to be stationed there to guarantee security.
Kerry’s visit comes two days after israel freed the third of four batches of 104 veteran Palestinian prisoners as a goodwill gesture agreed under the talks process.
However, the release was expected to be followed by announcements of further Israeli settlement expansion on Palestinian territory, an issue that has crippled the talks and angered the international community.
A US State Department official told AFP before the visit that Israel’s settlement expansion had created difficulties in the negotiations, and reiterated Washington’s position that the settlements are illegitimate.
Meanwhile, Czech police said Thursday they had found unregistered weapons at the Prague residence of the Palestinian ambassador who was killed by an exploding safe on New Year’s day.
Czech and Palestinian investigators are probing the death of ambassador Jamal al-Jamal, although police in Prague said it appeared to be accidental rather than a terror attack. “The blast was the result of inexpert handling of an explosive,” Prague police chief Martin Vondrasek told public radio.
“I can’t say specifically what weapons we have found. We can say they have not been registered in the Czech Republic,” he added.  The website of mass circulation Respekt weekly quoted unnamed police sources as saying Jamal had probably mishandled a bomb hidden in the safe at his Prague home.
It said police had found automatic rifles and other illegal weapons that could arm a 10-man combat unit. Jamal, 56, who had been in the post since October, suffered fatal injuries to his head, chest and stomach.
His 52-year-old wife was treated for smoke inhalation but discharged from hospital Wednesday.
Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki described the blast as “a work accident”.
“The safe was old, and it was made in a way that if it is being opened in a wrong way, an explosive device attached to its door would explode, and this is what happened.
He told Voice of Palestine radio that Jamal had opened the safe “without consulting with anyone” but that no crime had been committed.
‘Safe in everyday use’
But Palestinian embassy spokesman Nabil al-Fahel told AFP the safe was in almost everyday use and “according to our information there was no built-in anti-theft system”.
Jamal was a member of the ruling Palestinian Fatah party of president Mahmud Abbas. He served as a diplomat in Bulgaria and Egypt as well as then Czechoslovakia during the communist era.