Saudi Arabia denounces Netanyahu’s statements in U.S., wants explanation from international quartet

Obama-Netanyahu meeting fails to reach results

Washington insists probing status of Jerusalem, Netanyahu rejects stopping settlements

World condemnation of Israel’s policies, defiance over settlement construction in Jerusalem

UK expels Israeli diplomat over Dubai passports row, Australia awaits outcome of investigations

Saudi Arabia has condemned Israel's "arrogant" policies in Jerusalem which it says are denying the rights of Arabs and Muslims in the holy city.

A government statement Wednesday criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for saying in Washington his government would not stop construction in Jerusalem, calling it the capital of Israel.

Israel recently announced new housing plans for east Jerusalem, which Palestinians want for a future capital.

The statement said Netanyahu's comments denied the rights of Palestinians and Muslims in Jerusalem and ignored international efforts to re-launch peace talks.

The kingdom asked the Quartet, consisting of U.S., Russia, U.N. and the EU, to explain Israel's "arrogant" policies which insist on challenging the world.

U.S. President Barack Obama asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to build confidence for the Middle East peace talks during their meeting on Tuesday, the White House said on Wednesday.

The talks were "honest and straightforward," said the White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.

Obama and Netanyahu held a 90-minute closed-door meeting at the White House on Tuesday, trying to defuse the bilateral tensions arising from Israel's new housing plan in East Jerusalem.

The United States has demanded that Israel reverse the housing plan, which Netanyahu has so far rejected. The U.S.-brokered indirect talks between Israelis and Palestinians are currently stalled as the Palestinians refused to negotiate unless Israel stops building in East Jerusalem.

"There are areas in which we have disagreements. Those were discussed last night," said Gibbs, adding that Obama asked Netanyahu "to build confidence up to proximity talks."

The Obama administration, who has been trying its best to push the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, was angry over the Israeli government's approval of 1,600 homes in East Jerusalem on March 9 when U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was pushing both Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace talks.

Both Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton issued condemnation on the Netanyahu-led government for the move, which was described by Clinton as "an insult" and "a deeply negative signal" about Israel's approach to relations with Washington.

Before the meeting with Obama, Netanyahu told the AIPAC conference that building more houses in the Jewish neighborhoods "in no way precludes the possibility of the two-state solution," stressing that Jerusalem is not a settlement, but the eternal capital of Israel.

On Tuesday afternoon, Netanyahu met with some influential Congress members and told the lawmakers that the peace process may be delayed for another year should the Palestinians refused to drop "illogical and unreasonable demand" for Israel's full freeze on Jewish settlements.

The Palestinians insists that the peace talks will not be resumed until the Israeli government totally freezes the Jewish settlement activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, while the Israeli government claims to ensure the "natural growth" of the Jewish settlements.

According to Israeli reports, Obama walked out of his meeting with the prime minister for a private dinner.

For a head of government to visit the White House and not pose for photographers is rare. For a key ally to be left to his own devices while the President withdraws to have dinner in private was, until this week, unheard of. Yet that is how Benjamin Netanyahu was treated by President Obama on Tuesday night, according to Israeli reports on a trip viewed in Jerusalem as a humiliation.

After failing to extract a written promise of concessions on settlements, Obama walked out of his meeting with Netanyahu but invited him to stay at the White House, consult with advisers and “let me know if there is anything new”, a U.S. congressman, who spoke to the Prime Minister, said.

“It was awful,” the congressman said. One Israeli newspaper called the meeting “a hazing in stages”, poisoned by such mistrust that the Israeli delegation eventually left rather than risk being eavesdropped on a White House telephone line.

Another said that the Prime Minister had received “the treatment reserved for the President of Equatorial Guinea”.

Left to talk among themselves Netanyahu and his aides retreated to the Roosevelt Room. He spent a further half-hour with Obama and extended his stay for a day of emergency talks to try to restart peace negotiations. However, he left last night with no official statement from either side. He returned to Israel isolated after what Israeli media have called a White House ambush for which he is largely to blame.

Sources said that Netanyahu failed to impress Obama with a flow chart purporting to show that he was not responsible for the timing of announcements of new settlement projects in east Jerusalem. Obama was said to be livid when such an announcement derailed the visit to Israel by Joe Biden, the Vice-President, this month and his anger towards Israel does not appear to have cooled.

Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, cast doubt on minor details in Israeli accounts of the meeting but did not deny claims that it amounted to a dressing down for the Prime Minister, whose refusal to freeze settlements is seen in Washington as the main barrier to resuming peace talks.

Last week, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said that Israeli settlement building anywhere on occupied land is illegal and must be stopped, while a Palestinian teenager was killed in clashes with Israeli troops elsewhere in the West Bank.

The death of 16-year-old Mohammed Qadus, who Palestinians say was shot in the chest by Israeli security forces, comes amid heightened tensions between Israelis and Palestinians after Israel announced plans last week for 1,600 new homes for Jews in disputed east Jerusalem.

The settlement announcement has sparked outrage and protests from Palestinians, as well as condemnation from Israel's closest ally — the United States — and the U.N. secretary general.

From a hilltop observation post on the outskirts of the Palestinian city of Ramallah, Ban got a closer look Saturday at some of the Israeli enclaves scattered across Palestinian-claimed territories.

The panorama included the sprawling West Bank settlement of Givat Zeev, home to 11,000 Israelis who live in rows of red-roofed houses, and Jewish neighborhoods in traditionally Arab east Jerusalem, the Israeli-annexed sector of the city that Palestinians claim as a future capital.

The brief geography lesson came a day after Ban, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other major Mideast mediators — known as the Quartet — met in Moscow to try to find a way to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The mediators urged Israel to halt all settlement construction.

Israel has agreed to curb settlement construction in the West Bank, but not in east Jerusalem, claiming the entire city as Israel's eternal capital.

On Saturday, Ban rejected Israel's distinction between east Jerusalem and the West Bank, noting that both are occupied lands.

"The world has condemned Israel's settlement plans in east Jerusalem," Ban told a news conference after his brief tour.

"Let us be clear. All settlement activity is illegal anywhere in occupied territory and must be stopped."

The U.N. chief also expressed concern about what he said was a worsening humanitarian situation in blockaded Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Speaking later Saturday in Jerusalem alongside Israeli President Shimon Peres, Ban repeated the Quartet's call for a resumption of talks and for the establishment of a Palestinian state within two years.

Earlier this month, Israelis and Palestinians agreed to indirect talks, with U.S. envoy George Mitchell to shuttle between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. However, the negotiations were put on hold after Israel announced its new settlement plans.

The announcement — which came during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden — prompted a major diplomatic row between Israel and the U.S., though Clinton suggested Friday that a way could be found to renew negotiations. Clinton has asked Netanyahu for specific gestures, including canceling the most recent housing plan, and is to hear from the Israeli leader in a meeting in Washington early next week.

Senior U.S. officials in Washington say Netanyahu apparently has put in writing the pledges he made to Clinton during their telephone conversation on Thursday.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to describe contents of a private diplomatic contact between Clinton and Netanyahu.

Clinton reportedly asked Israel to revoke its recent building decision, roll back on plans for new Jewish homes and make goodwill gestures such as releasing Palestinian prisoners and lifting some West Bank roadblocks.

Meanwhile, Mitchell is returning to the region over the weekend and is planning to brief Abbas on U.S. efforts. Abbas has said he will not negotiate with Israel directly unless it freezes all settlement construction, including in east Jerusalem.

Palestinians fear that expanding settlements will take up more and more of the land they want for their state.

Netanyahu has agreed to a 10-month curb in West Bank construction that ends in September, but the construction of some 3,000 homes in settlements, begun before Israel declared the partial freeze, is continuing.

Nearly half a million Israelis live on war-won land, including some 180,000 in east Jerusalem and nearly 300,000 in the West Bank.

Violent protests have erupted several times in the past week in east Jerusalem, where residents are angry over both the new Jewish housing plans and unsubstantiated rumors that Jewish extremists are plotting to take over an Old City shrine, holy to both Muslims and Jews.

The city was largely calm Saturday, although in a minor incident Palestinian youths lobbed some rocks at Israeli troops, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullet fire.

In the northern West Bank, a doctor at a Nablus hospital said Qadus died Saturday after being shot in the chest by Israeli security forces. Palestinians say a 17-year-old protester was also in serious condition after being shot in the head. The doctor spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Israel's military confirmed that it dispersed a group of masked, rock-throwing Palestinians near the town of Iraq Burin with tear gas and rubber bullets. It said the Palestinians were holding a violent, illegal riot and were approaching a nearby settlement in a threatening manner. The military insisted that its troops did not use live bullets and said it was investigating reports of the Palestinian death.

Clashes take place in the village on a near weekly basis over a water well that Palestinians claim Jewish settlers are trying to seize for their own use.

Britain said on Tuesday it was expelling an Israeli diplomat after concluding that Israel had forged British passports used by the suspected killers of a Hamas commander in Dubai.

"I've asked that a member of the Embassy of Israel be withdrawn from the UK as a result of this affair and this is taking place," Foreign Secretary David Miliband told parliament.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied a role in the January killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a military commander from the Palestinian organization Hamas, in a Dubai hotel room. Dubai authorities have given names for 27 alleged members of the team that tracked and killed the Palestinian, and said they used fraudulent British, Irish, French, German and Australian passports to enter and leave Dubai.

Miliband said there were "compelling reasons" to believe Israel was responsible for forging the 12 British passports used and said he had sought assurances from Israel that it would not do so again.

"Such misuse of British passports is intolerable ... It also represents a profound disregard for the sovereignty of the United Kingdom," he said. Miliband did not accuse Israel of being responsible for the killing.

Israel said it regretted Britain's decision. "We attribute great importance to relations with Britain," Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a statement.

"We have received no evidence pointing to Israeli involvement in the matter (Mabhouh's assassination)," he said.

An Israeli official said there would be no tit-for-tat reaction by Israel. "There will be no retaliatory measures by Israel and no British diplomats will be expelled," said the official, who declined to be named.

Dubai's police chief has said he is almost certain Israeli agents were involved and has accused the intelligence agency Mossad of insulting Dubai.

Britain's move could put pressure on other countries whose passports were cloned to take similar action, analysts said.

Miliband said a British police investigation concluded that the fake passports were copied from genuine British passports when these were handed over for inspection to individuals linked to Israel, either in Israel or elsewhere.

"Given that this was a very sophisticated operation in which high-quality forgeries were made, the government judges it is highly likely the forgeries were made by a state intelligence service," he said.

Miliband declined to identify the Israeli diplomat who would leave or his rank but told Sky News: "He was chosen by us and it was based on the investigations that we have undertaken."

Britain amended its travel advice for Israel, recommending British visitors only give their passports to other people, including Israeli officials, "when absolutely necessary".

In the Gaza Strip, a spokesman for the Islamist movement Hamas said the expulsion proved that Britain holds Israel responsible for the Dubai assassination.

"Britain's decision to expel the Israeli diplomat is, in addition to previously uncovered proof, clear evidence of the involvement of the Israeli occupation in the assassination of martyr Mahmoud al-Mabhouh," said Sami Abu Zuhri.

Nadim Shehadi, a Middle East expert at London think-tank Chatham House, said Britain was in effect accusing Israel of ordering Mabhouh's killing, but Faysal Itani, of consultants Exclusive Analysis, called the expulsion a "slap on the wrist".

Britain expelled an Israeli diplomat in 1988 in an espionage row. The man, Arie Regev, was described at the time by informed British sources as a Mossad agent.

In 1997, Canada briefly withdrew its ambassador from Israel after a bungled attempt in Jordan by Mossad agents, using false Canadian passports, to assassinate a Hamas leader.

British-Israeli trade was worth 3.33 billion pounds ($4.99 billion) in 2008. But relations have been strained recently by the threat of arrest for alleged war crimes faced by senior Israeli officials visiting Britain.

The latest spat comes at a time of friction between Israel and its key ally, the United States, since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government announced plans to build 1,600 homes for Jews near East Jerusalem.