Big four tell Israel: Don't build in east Jerusalem
ISRAEL has been condemned for the second time in a week over controversial plans to build homes in east Jerusalem.
• Tony Blair, Hillary Clinton, Sergey Lavrov, Ban Ki-moon and Lady Ashton after their talks in Moscow yesterday. Picture: Getty Images
The so-called Quartet of Middle East peace mediators – made up of representatives from the United Nations, United States, European Union and Russia – urged Israel to freeze all settlement activity.
The call, after talks in Moscow, came as new violence erupted, with Palestinians in east Jerusalem and the West Bank throwing stones at Israeli troops, setting bins and tyres ablaze and torching an Israeli flag. The Israelis hit back with tear gas and stun grenades.
More than a week of violence in east Jerusalem has coincided with the worst US-Israeli diplomatic row in decades, which erupted after Israel announced, during US vice-president Joe Biden's visit, plans to build 1,600 flats in east Jerusalem. Israel's move drew tough US criticism.
The plans, which challenge Palestinian claims to the traditionally Arab eastern sector of the city, were also condemned by the UN and the EU.
The Quartet issued a formal statement read by UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, which said: "The Quartet urges the government of Israel to freeze all settlement activities… and to refrain from demolitions and evictions.
"It condemns the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in east Jerusalem."
Joining the UN chief at the Moscow meeting were US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, EU foreign policy chief Baroness Ashton, and the Quartet's special representative, former prime minister Tony Blair.
Mr Lavrov said the Israelis and Palestinians should move first to indirect talks, followed by face-to-face negotiations. Those indirect talks were due to have started last week, but were stalled by reaction to Israel's building plans.
George Mitchell, the US Middle East peace envoy, is to due to meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders soon, in the hope of getting the process restarted. Mrs Clinton said she expected to see the Israeli premier, Benjamin Netanyahu, in Washington next week.
"We are continuing our discussions with him and his government. It's one of the reasons Senator Mitchell will be going back to the region and meeting with him in just a few days," she said.
The fragile situation is Gaza was one of the key focuses of the Quartet's formal statement. The diplomats expressed concern at the humanitarian situation there.
Earlier yesterday, the Israeli air force responded to a rocket attack by Gaza militants the day before by striking six targets in southern Gaza. The Israeli military claimed the targets were three weapons-smuggling tunnels, two other tunnels that militants were digging to infiltrate into Israel and a weapons workshop. No injuries were reported.
The rocket and the Israeli retaliation raised the spectre of further conflagration at a time of renewed international focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In a nod to Israeli security concerns, the Quartet condemned the rocket attack and called for calm to be respected.
They also took "positive note" that the Israeli government had recently endorsed a number of UN civilian recovery projects in Gaza, including a stalled housing project.
In addition, the group called for the immediate release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held by Gaza's Hamas rulers for more than three years.
Yesterday's clashes were most serious in the West Bank town of Hebron, where 60 protesters faced off against Israeli soldiers. Hebron has been in ferment since last month, when Mr Netanyahu designated a disputed shrine there as a national heritage site.
There were also sporadic, low-level clashes at a small number of other points in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
ISRAELIS have a favourable impression of US president Barack Obama, despite the fact many disagree with the United States' position in the diplomatic feud over east Jerusalem construction.
Some Israelis have misgivings about Mr Obama, who is cooler to Israel than his immediate predecessors, but a Dialog survey of 499 people showed 70 per cent of Israelis shared a favourable view of Mr Obama. However, the Dialog poll and two others, by Maagar Mohot and the Dahaf Research Institute, showed Israelis generally supported continued construction in Jerusalem's disputed eastern sector. Support ranged from 48 per cent to 70 per cent across the three.
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