Abbas pledges “historic decisions” at Arab follow-up committee meetings

Israeli court allows settlers to control Palestinian houses in Jerusalem

Arabs condemn settlements as West concerned over possible collapse of peace march

Yemen sacks chess team for playing chess with Israel

US envoy George Mitchell arrived in the Middle East to try to save peace talks as Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said Israel would be to blame if negotiations collapsed over settlements.

The talks, re-launched on September 2 after months of tortuous shuttle diplomacy, were on the brink of foundering after a 10-month Israeli moratorium on the building of new Jewish settler homes in the West Bank expired last week.

Washington said Mitchell would meet Israeli leaders, the Palestinians on, and hold talks with Arab leaders before Abbas is to announce if the Palestinians will remain in the US-sponsored talks.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Mitchell "will be consulting broadly in the region" before Abbas makes a speech at an Arab League meeting in Cairo.

Abbas had said he would not respond to the renewal of building until he meets with Palestinian leaders this week and Arab foreign ministers, but warned Israel against continued construction in the settlements.

"Whoever decides to continue to build settlements and provide aid and protection to them decides to halt the negotiations," Abbas told AFP on a flight to Amman from Paris, where he had met with French leaders.

"But we are still determined to see the success of genuine and serious negotiations," the Palestinian president added.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said he had accepted an invitation from French President Nicolas Sarkozy to attend a meeting with Abbas next month in Paris.

The statement did not give a date for the meeting but quoted Netanyahu as saying he saw the continuation of peace talks as "essential."

"I believe with all my heart that it is within our power to reach a framework agreement within a year and to transform the history of the Middle East," it quoted Netanyahu as adding.

Abbas said would deliver a "very important speech" before the Arab League Follow-up Committee for the peace process on October 4 in which he would announce "historic decisions."

He told French radio the moratorium should be reinstated for the duration of the talks, and added Netanyahu "should understand that peace is more important than settlement building."

Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed the moratorium by telephone in talks the State Department spokesman described as "very significant, very detailed, very direct."

"The prime minister understands what our policies are. We understand his ongoing political difficulties," said Crowley, who has praised Abbas for showing "restraint" and not yet backing out of the negotiations.

The moratorium impasse has thrown the peace talks into jeopardy and the resumption of building has drawn widespread criticism, including from the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.

The Palestinians have previously called on Israel to extend the moratorium for three to four months so the two sides can reach an agreement on final borders to clarify where Israel can build.

Netanyahu has refused to renew the partial freeze, while urging Abbas to stick with the talks, which were re-launched after a 20-month hiatus.

Mitchell met Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, according to the defense ministry, but no details of their discussion were released.

Netanyahu's office said the premier would meet the envoy "in an extra effort to find a solution to continuing talks" with the Palestinians.

Mitchell was also expected to visit Abbas in the West Bank but, as on previous visits, he was unlikely to comment publicly on the content of the talks.

In New York, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman insisted combating Iran's nuclear drive and its support of militant groups should take precedence over the peace talks.

In a speech to the UN General Assembly, Lieberman said a peace deal could take decades and repeated his controversial idea of joining mostly Arab regions of Israel to a future Palestinian state.

Netanyahu's office later distanced the premier from his own minister's remarks, saying they did not reflect the official Israeli position.

"The content of the foreign minister's speech to the United Nations was not coordinated with the prime minister," a statement said, adding: "Netanyahu is the one who handles the diplomatic negotiations."

Meanwhile, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Palestinians claiming to own a large plot in the western portion of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, where Israeli settlers have forcefully taken over several Palestinian homes, the Ha'aretz reported on its website.

The court ruled that the custodian general, and other owners, including settler representatives, succeeded in proving they owned the property.

This would mean the eviction of dozens of Palestinian families living on the property.

Aryeh King, one of the leaders of the settlement movement in East al-Quds said that three Palestinian families would be evicted from their homes and replaced by Israeli settlers in two days. He also said plans were underway to build dozens of settlement units for Jews in the neighborhood.

Palestinians filed a lawsuit in 1997, arguing that the property on which Jews settled following the Six-Day War of 1967 had not been sold to them but leased and that the ownership remained Palestinian. In 2006, the al-Quds District Court rejected the suit and they appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court rejected their appeal and ruled that the Palestinians failed to prove the terms of the lease between the original owners and the Jews who lived in the neighborhood. It also rejected evidence that payments had been made for the lease proved the Jews had not bought the property.

The ruling is significant as the status of the Palestinians living in the eastern portion of the neighborhood is now the same as that of those living in the western side.

Sources familiar with the issue say that now it will be easier for settler groups to evict Palestinians from their homes in the area.

The newly started Israeli-Palestinian talks will fail unless Israel extends a partial ban on settlement building in the West Bank, territory the Palestinians want for a future state, Arab League chief Amr Moussa warned.

Moussa also reacted angrily to a vote earlier in the day in the U.N. nuclear agency in Vienna that defeated an Arab call for Israel to join the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Speaking on the sidelines of the United Nations annual summit in New York, Moussa said negotiations could not proceed if building of settlements continued on the occupied West Bank because it would threaten "the territorial integrity of the new state of Palestine."

"Negotiations cannot go with settlements," he said.

Netanyahu has said a partial moratorium on settlement construction will not be extended when it expires.

"If they continue eroding the territorial integrity of the Palestinian lands, if they continue changing the demographic composition of the territories, why are the negotiations conducted, why are we wasting time?" Moussa asked.

Earlier in the week, Moussa met with senior diplomats from the Quartet of Mideast peacemakers - the U.S., the European Union, the United Nations and Russia - to discuss a way forward in the talks. The Quartet also has called on Israel to extend its settlement freeze.

Israel has refused to do so, arguing that settlement building was not be an impediment to the talks.

Moussa indirectly criticized the United States and other Western nations, claiming they were continuing to support Israel's intransigence.

"Defending Israel on everything, even (against) calling on Israel to join the Nonproliferation Treaty, is something very, very strange and does not augur well to building confidence," he said.

He said the Arab effort to get the 151-nation U.N. nuclear agency to urge Israel to join the international nuclear treaty to which all other states in the Middle East belong, failed after a "worldwide campaign" by Israel's western allies to prevent this.

The resolution was defeated by a five-vote margin at the agency's meeting. Israel is generally assumed to have assembled a sizable arsenal of nuclear warheads since the 1960s, but declines to discuss its status as a nuclear power.

"We see nothing wrong (in calling) for Israel to join the NPT as part of efforts to make the Middle East a zone free of nuclear weapons," Moussa told reporters.

Washington strongly opposed the Arab move, saying it would undermine Israel-Palestinian peace talks and plans for a major conference in two years on a Mideast nuclear free zone. Senior U.S. officials have said they could envisage a Middle East free of such weapons, even if Israel retains its arsenal.

Moussa rejected that.

"Why should Israel be the only one? The answer is of course no, it shouldn't be the only one. In fact, there should be no nuclear power in the Middle East," he said.

"This is a recipe for chaos and for an arms race in the Middle East."

On the other hand, Yemeni Sports Minister Hamud Mohammed Ubad has dismissed the Yemeni national chess team for playing against Israel in an international tournament, a government website said.

The team was participating in the World Chess Olympics in Belarus when it played their Israeli opponents, the official September 26 Net website said.

The minister also banned the Yemeni players who played against the Israelis in Minsk from representing their country again in the future.

"This was an individual action contrary to the policy of Yemen, which refuses any normalization with Israel," Ubad said, adding that players of any sport must withdraw if they are drawn against Israelis.

Ubad said the Yemeni players had now withdrawn from the tournament and were returning home.

The Yemeni committee against normalization with Israel expressed indignation that the team had been drawn against the Jewish state.

Yemen is a member of the World Chess Federation, ranking the 89th in a list of 154 countries. Israel is ranked the 5th.

Some Arab sports teams have cancelled participation in international championships in the past because of Israel's participation.