By Elise Labott, reporting from Jerusalem
If there is one thing Israelis and Palestinians can agree on, it's that John Kerry doesn't lack enthusiasm.
Arriving in Israel on Thursday on his fourth trip since taking office, the secretary of state seems determined that shuttle diplomacy will be enough to coax Israelis and Palestinians into restarting long-stalled talks.
Kerry has made it clear the Israeli-Palestinian issue will be the centerpiece of his tenure as America's top diplomat and hopes solving it will be his legacy.
He has spent more time on this issue than any other, is in almost daily contact with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and speaks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas several times a week.
By Jill Dougherty
Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday he will return to the Middle East later this month to try to push forward on the peace process.
In Rome Wednesday, Kerry met with Israeli Justice Minister Tsipi Livni and Itzhak Moho, Israel's negotiator with the Palestinians.
Conferring at the residence of the U.S. ambassador to Italy, Kerry said he and his partners face a short time timespan. "We understand the imperative to try to have some sense of direction as rapidly as we can," he said.
By Frederik Pleitgen and Sara Sidner
A Syrian official called an attack Sunday on the nation's military research facility a "declaration of war" by Israel.
In an interview with CNN, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al Mekdad said the attack represented an alliance between Islamic terrorists and Israel.
He added that Syria would retaliate against Israel in its own time and way.
By Tom Watkins, CNN
[Urgent update, 8:19 p.m.]
A number of explosions on Sunday rocked the Damascus suburb of Jamraya, hitting a "scientific research center," according to Syrian state TV. The news report said Israeli rockets struck the area.
[Original story published at 3:40 p.m.]
Sectarian violence reported in Syrian city of Baniyas
Sectarian violence has erupted in northwestern Syria, where three consecutive days of killing by mostly Alawite forces have left hundreds of predominantly Sunni residents dead, opposition groups said Saturday.
"The regime attacked the town of Beyda and other neighboring areas from the sea with rockets before security forces and militias loyal to the regime entered the area and conducted mass executions," Free Syrian Army chief of staff Gen. Salim Idris said by phone from Antakya, Turkey.
By Barbara Starr
The United States believes Israel has conducted an airstrike into Syria, two U.S. officials tell CNN.
U.S. and Western intelligence agencies are reviewing classified data showing Israel most likely conducted a strike in the Thursday-Friday time frame, according to both officials. This is the same time frame that the U.S. collected additional data showing Israel was flying a high number of warplanes over Lebanon.
One official said the United States had limited information so far and could not yet confirm those are the specific warplanes that conducted a strike. Based on initial indications, the U.S. does not believe Israeli warplanes entered Syrian airspace to conduct the strikes.
By CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr
Israel is asking the Obama administration not to arm Syrian rebels unless it can carefully screen them to ensure no weapons would fall into the hands of terrorists groups, the Israeli ambassador to the United States tells CNN.
"If it were decided to provide lethal assistance, we ask those groups be carefully vetted," Ambassador Michael Oren said Wednesday. He declined to offer specifics but broadly indicated the matter has come up in recent weeks - in the general time frame of visits to Israel by President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
Neighboring Jordan and Turkey have expressed similar concerns.
By Elise Labott
Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Israel and Turkey this weekend to try to jumpstart the long-stalled Mideast peace process and build on the two nations' efforts to repair ties, U.S. and Turkish officials said Wednesday.
Kerry moved up his Monday departure for London and then South Korea, China and Japan in order to capitalize on the reconciliation President Barack Obama brokered between Turkey and Israel during his visit to the region last month, according to the officials, who spoke on anonymity because the trip had not been announced. He will also discuss the crisis in Syria.
Obama scored a diplomatic success during his visit to Israel last month when he persuaded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to apologize to Turkey for a 2010 commando raid that killed nine activists on a Turkish vessel in a Gaza-bound flotilla.
The apology, long sought by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, eased strained feelings between the two vital U.S. allies in the Middle East.
By Sara Sidner, reporting from Jerusalem
The issue of how to deal with the movement or transfer of sophisticated weapons in Syria to groups such as Hezbollah or al Qaeda will come up in Israeli discussions with U.S. President Barack Obama this week.
Israeli officials will not publicly confirm or deny a report in Britain's Guardian newspaper that Israel's leadership will try to persuade Obama - who is traveling to Israel and the Palestinian territories - to have U.S. forces carry out airstrikes against Syria if evidence shows sophisticated missiles are being handed over to groups both have deemed terrorist organizations.
But a senior Israeli official said, "Syria has weapons not even Iran has. We know where their weapons are and we are watching very closely. In prior discussion I have been in I have not heard a specific request to the United States in those terms. However, these sorts of issues have come up in discussions with America."
Syria "is fragmenting and no one wants to see chemical weapons or state of the art weaponry that Syria has fall into the hands of al Qaeda or Hezbollah in Lebanon," the source said, ending with, "We reserve the right to act in such a crisis. But if someone else would act we wouldn't have to."
By Elise Labott
Incoming Secretary of State John Kerry plans to include stops in the Middle East as his first official trip, according to a US official. The trip, which is expected as early as mid-February, is likely to include stops in Israel and Egypt, the official said.
A western diplomat said Kerry has already been invited by some European capitals to visit later this month. Kerry indicated interest in going, but did not commit given he has not been sworn in yet.
By Mike Mount
Badly burned after his armored personnel carrier hit a land mine in Vietnam, Hagel sat in a medical evacuation helicopter thinking of the horrors he had experienced during his time in combat there.
Sitting on that helicopter with injuries that would take years to heal, Hagel thought to himself, "If I ever get out, if I ever can influence anything, I will do all I can to prevent war," Hagel would later tell his biographer, Charlyne Berens.
The moment became a seminal one for the young soldier who volunteered to join the Army and ended up serving a year-long tour in 1968 during the Tet Offensive, considered the most violent time of that war.
If former Senator Chuck Hagel gets nominated to be the next Secretary of Defense, it won't be a smooth ride to confirmation.
Getting to the Pentagon will mean overcoming an already vocal opposition from pro-Israel groups and others who object to his stance on Iran and Hamas. One group began running ads on Washington-area television stations on Thursday, even though the administration has not said he is the president's choice.
He faced new opposition late this week from gay rights groups, who were strong supporters of President Obama's election campaigns, for a comment Hagel made in 1998 in which Hagel questioned whether a nominee for ambassadorship was suitable because he was "openly aggressively gay."
Should he be selected to replace Leon Panetta though, he will bring to the Pentagon a distinct bias towards avoiding armed conflict.