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Israeli minister defends 'friend' Kerry

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Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman

Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman

Israel's right-wing foreign minister last night defended US Secretary of State John Kerry whose Middle East peace drive has seen mounting criticism from within the Israeli government.

The conciliatory remarks by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman could help Kerry cobble together consensus for pursuing the peace negotiations.

"I want to make clear – Kerry is a true friend of Israel," Mr Lieberman told business leaders in Tel Aviv. "What is the point of turning friend into foe?"

Mr Lieberman has taken a more circumspect tack since resuming the role of foreign minister after he was cleared of graft charges last year. Mr Kerry has been criticised from within the Israeli government in recent weeks. Israeli media quoted Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon as ridiculing Kerry as "messianic" over US proposals that could increase Palestinian security controls in the West Bank were Israel to withdraw.

Meanwhile, aid agencies working in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem expressed alarm yesterday at a spike in Israeli demolitions of Palestinian property coinciding with renewed US-backed peace negotiations.

The statement by 25 aid organisations said the number of demolitions increased by almost half and the displacement of Palestinians by nearly three-quarters between July 2013, when the talks began, and the end of the year, compared to the same period in 2012.

Of the 663 Palestinian structures torn down last year, the highest number in five years, 122 were built with international donor aid, the groups said.

The International Red Cross announced this week it would stop delivering tents to Palestinians made homeless by demolitions in the Jordan border region of West Bank, citing Israeli obstruction.

"International and local aid organisations have faced increasingly severe restrictions in responding to the needs created by the unlawful demolition of civilian property, in violation of Israel's obligation to facilitate the effective delivery of aid," wrote the groups, which included Oxfam and Christian Aid.

Irish Independent