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Trump admits Mideast peace tougher than he had thought

Palestinians carry tires to be burned during clashes with Israeli forces near the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel
Palestinians carry tires to be burned during clashes with Israeli forces near the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel AFP/File

Washington (AFP)

President Donald Trump on Thursday admitted that bringing peace to the Middle East may be harder than he had thought, in comments to Jewish leaders marking the holiday of Rosh Hashanah.

Trump, who said in May 2017 that forging peace between Israel and the Palestinians would perhaps be "not as difficult as people have thought over the years," said Thursday he might have been wrong.

"All my life I've heard that's the hardest deal to make, and I'm starting to believe that maybe it is," he said in a conference call with Jewish faith leaders and the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, to mark the Jewish new year.

"But I will say that if it can be delivered, we will deliver it," he said, insisting that his team of regional envoys -- led by his son-in-law Jared Kushner -- "have made progress, believe it or not."

Trump stirred controversy in the region when he announced he was moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, whose eastern half the Palestinians claim as their own capital.

More than 60 Palestinians were killed by Israeli gunfire during protests in the Gaza Strip the day of the inauguration of the new embassy on May 14, a ceremony attended by Kushner and his wife Ivanka, the president's daughter.

The Trump administration has also cut funds to the United Nation's Palestinian refugee agency and pulled out of the world body's human rights council, accusing it of anti-Israel bias. The US government has also ended some $200 million in payments by USAID to the Palestinians.

Trump said during Thursday's conference call that the aid would be suspended as long as the Palestinians -- who boycotted his administration after the embassy announcement -- did not come to the table.

"The United States was paying them tremendous amounts of money. And I'd say, you'll get money, but we're not paying you until we make a deal. If we don't make a deal, we're not paying. And that's going to have a little impact," he said.

Some analysts have warned however that the recent funding cuts could further inflame regional tensions.

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