Abbas urges quartet to bring Israel to meet its obligations on settlements

Europe alarmed by Netanyahu government policies regarding peaceful solutions

UN chief Ban inspects destruction in Gaza, stresses support for Palestinian statehood

Netanyahu defiant on settlements in Jerusalem

U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell on Monday urged Palestinians and Israelis to exercise constraint to proceed with proximity talks following the killing of four young Palestinians by Israeli troops in the West Bank.

"We need a period of calm to go forward with proximity talks," Mitchell told the media following his talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman.

"We will continue discussions during the few coming days with the involved parties to establish conditions to move forward the proximity talks and I am looking forward to returning to the region soon," Mitchell said at a joint press conference.

At the press conference, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Israeli troops killed four Palestinians under the age of 19 over the past two days, labeling the action as a "very serious escalation."

Meanwhile, Abbas said that the right of “our people in the popular resistance is guaranteed by international legitimacy”.

Following a meeting this week in Amman with Mitchell, the President called on the Israelis not to “drag us into what we or they do not like”.

He described the Israeli military escalation in Nablus in the past 48 hours as “very dangerous,” saying that the situation is very critical.

He pay condolences to the families of the martyrs in Awarta, Iraq Burin near the West Bank city of Nablus, hoping that such a tragedy and the attacks on our people not to be repeated.

He called on the Israeli government to stop military escalation, and to stop the settlers’ attacks against the Palestinian citizens and the land.

Regarding the meeting of Mitchell the President said: “We discussed the issues in depth. We are waiting the response in the upcoming days. We hope that the Israelis adhere to the Quartet statement issued last Friday.”

The international Quartet urged the government of Israel to freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth, dismantle outposts erected since March 2001 and to refrain from demolitions and evictions in East Jerusalem.

It underscored that the status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties and condemned the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem.

The President described the Quartet statement as “important”, saying the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has to implement it.

Mitchell said in a joint press conference with Head of the Negotiations Affairs Department in the Palestine Liberation Organization Dr. Saeb Erekat, I have just good meeting and a positive, informative and constructive one with President Abbas.

“We discussed many issues including the launch of the project talks, which will lead to indirect negotiations to lead to two-state live in peace in the Middle East, two mutually independent living side by side with economic prosperity in the region,” he added.

“President Abbas expressed concern over the recent Israeli escalation in Nablus area, on behalf of the United States and the President [Obama] we express our deep concern. What is needed now is a period of quietness and calm down, tranquility for access to our every effort for the “ proximity talks”.”

Erekat said, President Mahmoud Abbas asked the American administration to answer all of the Palestinian command in order to be ready for the” proximity talks “project with U.S.A as a third part in the indirect negotiation with the Israel.

He added, George Mitchell explained the U.S. efforts to launch indirect talks to reach a target of the two state solutions and to remove obstacles to the talks. European Union (EU) foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Monday urged Israel to stop settlement activities and start talks with Palestine.

"We all heard the deliberations of Prime Minister Netanyahu," Ashton said at foreign affairs council meeting held on Monday. "We have made our position very clear we believe that the settlements should stop, and the talks should begin."

Ashton, the EU's high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, had just come back from the Middle East and especially being allowed into Gaza, as first politician allowed from the Israeli side for over a year. "There is a lot to discuss on how we can keep the pressure on to get talks moving."

Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos condemned Israel's settlement activity again. "We asked for a total freeze of the settlement activities, and we will pursue this policy."

Finnish foreign minister Alexander Stubb believed the move that Netanyahu's government has done on settlements are "completely unacceptable," while it is "equally unacceptable" than a rocket flying from Gaza into Israeli territory.

In the margins of the council meeting, foreign minister of the EU's member states discussed the Middle East peace process with Tony Blair, international Quartet envoy of EU.

Blair stressed that they had a very constructive discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian situation. "We agreed on two things: first of all, to get back on direct negotiations, as soon as possible, between the two parties on all the core issues and secondly, to support that, by a ground back work which Europe is playing big part in."

"That is building with Palestinian on order, security, rule of law, as well as, a course on the economy." Blair said, the events of the past couple of week have been very serious, and the key thing is now, to get back on track again and get the negotiations going on and start.

"The more we can do is to build confidence," Blair added.

During a visit to the Gaza Strip on Sunday, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon told Palestinians living under an Israeli blockade that the “[United Nations] stands with you.”

Ban’s pledge to Gazans comes as Israel is facing increasing diplomatic pressure following its widely condemned announcement that it will expand settlements in East Jerusalem. The timing of that announcement, during Vice President Joe Biden's trip to the Middle East, helped bring US-Israel relations to the lowest point in decades, reports the Monitor.

Ban’s stop-over in Gaza comes as part of a Middle East tour to promote the resumption of peace talks between the Israeli and Palestinian governments. Since the blockade began in 2007 when Hamas took control of Gaza, Ban has repeatedly called for an end to the lockdown.

On Saturday, speaking in Jerusalem, Ban criticized Israel for exposing Palestinians to “unacceptable hardships,” reports Iran’s Press TV. This trip to Gaza marks the UN leader’s second visit to the troubled area since the 22-day Israeli offensive in 2008-09. He will tour a number of areas that are unable to rebuild because they are cannot get supplies due to the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt.

Ban offered a number of criticisms about Israeli policy, including plans to build 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem.

Most of his remarks focused on the blockade, however, which has stopped the completion of several UN housing projects, reports the BBC. He added that the blockade is a “counter-productive” tool that stops the growth of legitimate business and fuels the growth of illicit economies and extremism.

[Ban] urged all Gazans to "choose the path of non-violence, Palestinian unity and international legitimacy".

He also called for a prisoner exchange involving Palestinian prisoners and Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit who was captured by militants in 2006.

Agreeing with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Ban said that peace negotiations should begin immediately, reports the Jerusalem Post. He added that all issues should be settled within 24 months.

While he was aware of Israel’s security problems, and always will be aware and open minded about them, he said, Ban stressed the need for Israel and the Palestinians to live as two states side-by-side in peace and security.

Though Ban met with Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and had dinner with Peres on Saturday night, he will not meet with members of the Hamas militant group, which controls Gaza, reports Xinhua.

Ban’s visit to Gaza comes as international players from around the world are working to restart talks between Israel and Palestinians. On Sunday, George Mitchell, US envoy to the Middle East, will also arrive in Israel, reports Al Jazeera. His visit was delayed after Israel announced its settlement expansion plan during Biden’s visit. Israeli leaders are expected to make some concessions during the visit, but many points of contention are likely to remain.

“What we're witnessing is really concerted efforts on the part of the international community to get some sort of peace process going again,” Jacky Rowland, Al Jazeera's Jerusalem correspondent, said. “It's been stagnant, it's been moribund for almost a year and a half now.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reaffirmed Israel's right to build settlements in occupied east Jerusalem ahead of potentially difficult talks with US President Barack Obama on Tuesday.

Showing no sign of compromise in a dispute which has harmed relations with the United States, Netanyahu told a pro-Israel lobby group: "The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital."

Palestinians want mostly Arab east Jerusalem, occupied and annexed by Israel after the 1967 war, to be the capital of their hoped for future state.

Netanyahu was given a standing ovation by the 7,500 delegates at the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual conference, which earlier heard a warning from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the settlement building.

With relations between Israel and the US at a low, British media reported that London was preparing to expel an Israeli diplomat in response to the use of fake British passports in the killing of a Hamas commander in Dubai.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband is to make a statement to parliament at 3.30pm (1530 GMT) after demanding Israel's full cooperation in a probe into the killing of Mahmud al-Mabhuh, a founder of Hamas' armed wing, in January.

The Jewish state has said there is no proof in widespread allegations that its spy agency, Mossad, was behind the murder.

Netanyahu will meet late Tuesday with Obama -- the first time the two leaders have met since the United States strongly condemned Israel for unveiling new Jerusalem construction as US Vice President Joe Biden visited the region to support peace talks.

But despite unusually harsh US criticism of new Israeli construction in the contested capital, Netanyahu said renewed settlement building was inevitable.

"The connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem cannot be denied," he said.

"Everyone knows that these neighborhoods will be part of Israel in any peace settlement. Therefore, building them in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution."

In Ramallah, Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said Netanyahu's remarks were destructive.

"Netanyahu's policies and the actions of his government will in the end lead to the destruction of all opportunities available for a serious peace process and successful negotiations."

The announcement of 1,600 new settlement units on March 9 during a visit by Biden to Jerusalem to support peace talks prompted a diplomatic crisis and the speeches by Netanyahu and Clinton Monday were closely watched for signs of an end to the dispute.

Clinton told AIPAC that Washington had to condemn the new homes in east Jerusalem as well as settlements in the occupied West Bank in order to preserve trust and ensure Israeli-Palestinian talks go ahead as agreed.

She said new construction "undermines" Washington's role as a credible mediator that is ready to both praise and condemn actions on both sides.

The secretary of state also urged Netanyahu to ease the humanitarian crisis in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, which is under an Israeli blockade.

Clinton told delegates, worried about the rift between the allies, that US support for Israel's security is "rock solid, unwavering, enduring and forever."

In a private meeting Monday, Netanyahu and Clinton discussed possible actions to "improve the atmosphere" for stalled US-mediated talks, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said.

"Our focus remains creating an atmosphere of trust so that the parties can begin to address core issues through proximity talks and move to direct negotiations as soon as possible," Crowley said.

The core issues are security for Israel, the status of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees, and the boundaries of a future Palestinian state.

On Iran, Clinton and Netanyahu expressed similar concerns, although Israel sees the matter as more urgent than the United States.

Clinton said Obama's administration will take the time to develop biting sanctions against Israel's archfoe Iran but will not "compromise its commitment" to prevent Tehran from acquiring a nuclear bomb.

US efforts to push through a fourth set of sanctions have run into opposition from China, a veto-wielding permanent member of the UN Security Council with growing trade ties with Iran.

Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful nuclear energy.