EU urges Israel to reverse West Bank moves

Foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton calls on Israel to reverse recent actions, such as announcing new settlements.

    Ashton said all sides should "show utmost restraint " in order not to jeopardise the negotiation process [AP]
    Ashton said all sides should "show utmost restraint " in order not to jeopardise the negotiation process [AP]

    EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton has called on Israel to reverse recent actions, such as announcing new settlements in the occupied West Bank, to bolster faltering peace talks.

    Ashton viewed with "great concern" an Israeli decision to declare an area near the Gush Etzion settlement south of Bethlehem as state land and approval of a new Jewish settlement in the southern city of Hebron, a statement from her office said on Friday.

    The continued demolition of Palestinian property and the confiscation of EU humanitarian aid were also worrying, Ashton added.

    Earlier this month, an EU official said Israel had demolished several EU-funded humanitarian housing shelters in a highly sensitive strip of West Bank land near Jerusalem.

    "The EU calls on the Israeli authorities to reverse these decisions," Ashton said.

    Such events are "not conducive to the climate of trust and cooperation needed for the current peace negotiations to succeed," she added.

    Ashton also said she "condemns the recent killing of an Israeli man in the West Bank and calls for an immediate end to all acts of violence".

    All sides should "show utmost restraint and responsibility in order not to jeopardise the current negotiation process", she said.

    Under an agreement brokered by the US for the resumption of the talks last July, Israel committed to releasing 104 prisoners held since before the 1993 Oslo autonomy accords in four batches.

    But in March it cancelled the release of the last group of 26, triggering the ire of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas who retaliated by seeking accession to 15 international treaties and conventions.

    'Wide gap'

    The crisis emerged just a month before the deadline of the talks on April 29 and as Washington was striving to extend the negotiations beyond that date.

    Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met separately on Friday with US peace envoy Martin Indyk, a Palestinian source said, a day after five hours of three-way talks failed to bring agreement.

    Indyk first met chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat in the West Bank city of Jericho, but no details of their talks were given.

    Israeli officials did not respond to requests for information, but media reports said a new tripartite meeting could be held in the coming days.

    The previous day's talks, held in a Jerusalem hotel, were "very difficult", the Palestinian source said, adding: "The gap... is still wide."

    State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said this week that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are striving to reach an agreement to extend their peace talks beyond an April 29 deadline.

    Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas told Israeli opposition MPs visiting him in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Wednesday that if talks were extended, he would want the first three months "devoted to a serious discussion of borders", Haaretz newspaper reported.

    The Palestinians want a state based on the lines that existed before Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Six-Day War.

    SOURCE: AFP


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