Kerry cites progress, hurdles in talks

Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Saturday that progress had been made in the Mideast peace process but acknowledged that some of the most intractable disputes between Israelis and Palestinians were unresolved after more than 20 rounds of talks.

“This is hard work,” he told reporters after a 2 1/2-hour meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, their second in two days. Afterward, Kerry resumed his shuttle diplomacy by heading back to Jerusalem for his third set of discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in as many days.

“We’re not there yet, but we are making progress,” Kerry said outside Abbas’s West Bank headquarters. “We are beginning to flesh out the toughest hurdles yet to be overcome.”

Kerry is trying to nudge Abbas and Netanyahu closer to a peace pact that would establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The talks have entered an intense phase aimed at getting the two sides to agree on a framework, but that agreement is not expected to be reached on this trip, Kerry’s 10th to the region for peace talks.

On Sunday, Kerry plans to meet with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh in Amman. From there, he is to visit Saudi Arabia for talks with the king before returning to Jerusalem.

— Associated Press

Death toll at 17after latest clashes

The death toll from clashes between Islamist protesters and security forces in Egypt on Friday has risen to 17, a security official said Saturday, less than two weeks ahead of a key referendum on an amended constitution.

Meanwhile, 13 of the country’s most prominent human rights groups issued a report condemning the authorities’ human rights violations and recent arrests of political activists.

In the deadliest street battles in months, in Cairo and other cities on Friday, hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members and their supporters threw firebombs and rocks at security forces, who responded with water cannons and tear gas. The streets were mostly calm Saturday.

Separately, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Qatari ambassador in Cairo to “reject” a statement by Qatar’s government Friday expressing concerns about the increasing number of people killed at demonstrations in support of Egypt’s ousted Islamist president and the designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.

— Associated Press

Afghan Taliban claim attack in Kabul: The Afghan Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack on a military convoy belonging to the NATO-led ISAF security force in Kabul, striking at the heart of the capital but causing no casualties. ISAF said only that there had been “an improvised explosive device detonation in the vicinity of Camp Eggers,” a base in the diplomatic quarter of the capital close to the German and Italian embassies.

Cambodian protesters cancel rally: Anti-government demonstrators said they had called off a mass rally planned for Sunday in the capital of Phnom Penh after a bloody crackdown on garment workers allied with the protest movement. The decision came hours after security guards and city workers, watched over by riot police, dismantled a camp occupied by demonstrators.

U.S. icebreaker to help Russian, Chinese ships: The United States is sending a heavy icebreaker to help free a Russian ship and a Chinese icebreaker gripped by Antarctic ice, the Coast Guard said, adding that the Polar Star is responding to a request for assistance from Australian, Russian and Chinese authorities. The Chinese vessel helped rescue 52 passengers from the Russian ship Thursday and found itself stuck next day.

Building collapses in India, killing at least 7: A five-story building under construction in the southern Indian state of Goa collapsed, killing at least seven workers. Dozens more were feared trapped under the rubble, police said. Authorities were trying to determine how many people were at the site in the city of Canacona when the structure crumpled.

— From news services