Settlement 'obligations'

But Erekat repeated the Palestinian demand that Netanyahu must comply with US calls for a complete freeze on settlement building before negotiations could take place again. 

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"There can be no middle ground ... He needs to stop settlement activities including 'natural growth'," Erekat said. 

"We are talking about an illegal build-up of settlements on occupied territories in accordance with the Hague convention, the Geneva convention of 1949 and in accordance with agreements signed.

"This is not a Palestinian condition, it is an Israeli obligation."

Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israel had still not decided whether it would make any further moves on the issue.

"No decision has been taken on this matter and no conclusion has been drawn," he told Israeli radio stations when asked to comment on reports that Israel was set to agree to a nine-month halt in the West Bank, but not in annexed east Jerusalem.

"These are rumours," he said. "We have not accepted anything and are continuing the dialogue with Washington."

Israel has said that it will not issue any new tenders for settlement construction until 2010, but building in exisiting settlements in the West Bank will continue.

George Mitchell, the US envoy to the Middle East, will meet Israeli officials later this week to discuss the issue.

'Reviving' talks

Meanwhile Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief, was in Israel on Monday for talks aimed at restarting the peace process, which has been stalled since Israel launnched a 22-day offensive in the Gaza Strip in December.

"My sentiment is that there is hope, big hope, that by the time of the General Assembly [in September] we will have the possibility of creating new dynamics"

Javier Solana,
EU foreign policy chief

"My sentiment is that there is hope, big hope, that by the time of the General Assembly [in September] we will have the possibility of creating new dynamics," he told Al Jazeera from Jerusalem.

"Some things still have to be resolved ... today in Washington there is a team from Israel negotiating some of the details."

Solana is on a four-day tour of the region, which began on Sunday with a visit to Syria.

In Damascus, he met Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, to discuss "ways of reviving the peace process," according to the state-run Sana news agency.

Al-Assad said that he would support peace with Israel if it met the conditions of UN Security Council resolutions which call on it to withdraw from areas occupied in the 1967 war, including the Golan Heights, the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

"Syria is working for a fair and global peace based on UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338," the Sana news agency quotes al-Assad as saying.

Solana will meet Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, in Ramallah later on Monday, before heading to Lebanon and Egypt.