Israel's Yaalon praises US, Kerry's 'efforts' on peace

Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon praised Washington for its role in attempting to mediate a peace agreement with the Palestinians in a Sunday meeting with the US military's top officer.

"This is a critical week for the Israeli-Palestinian issue and we appreciate the efforts made by US Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as the commitment and contribution of President (Barack) Obama towards this endeavour," Yaalon was quoted by his office as telling General Martin Dempsey.

The three-day visit of the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff comes after Yaalon upset Washington with remarks criticising its foreign policy and prompting the State Department to demand an apology.

It also comes as the United States is struggling to find a formula that would enable Israel and the Palestinians to continue faltering peace talks beyond an April 29 deadline.

But those efforts have become tied up with the fate of 26 Palestinian prisoners who Israel was to have freed this weekend under terms of an agreement which brought about a resumption of talks.

Israel had on Friday informed the Palestinians that the prisoners, the last batch of detainees due to be released, would not walk free.

The Palestinians say they will not even consider extending the talks without the prisoners being freed, but Israel has refused to release them without a Palestinian commitment to continue the talks beyond their April 29 deadline.

A statement from Yaalon's office said his meeting with Dempsey was attended by Israel's army chief Lieutenant General Benny Gantz and focused on "the situation in the Middle East" and "cooperation between the two countries."

"We truly appreciate the close relations between the United States and Israel," Yaalon told Dempsey. "For us, the United States is a strategic ally and our greatest friend. Our relations with the United States are a cornerstone of Israel's national security."

"This is a time when we need to remain even closer, and you have our commitment to do that," Dempsey said.

In January, Yaalon was quoted as saying Kerry acts "from an incomprehensible obsession and a sense of messianism".

And earlier this month, Yaalon enraged Kerry by saying Washington's foreign policy showed weakness in global hotspots.

Yaalon then phoned US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel to say there was "no criticism or intention to offend the United States."

But several days after Yaalon's remarks in a speech at Tel Aviv University, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Washington was still waiting for an apology.

Dempsey also met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who thanked him for the US aid to Israeli missile defence systems, according to a statement from the premier's office.