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UN Chief Urges Israel To Scrap West Bank Settlement Plans

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has renewd his appeal to Israel for scrapping its recent plans to construct new settler homes in the E1 area of the West Bank and urged all protests prompted by the Isreali decision to remain peaceful, his spokesman said Monday.

"The Secretary-General is following with concern developments regarding the announced plans for Israeli settlement construction in the so-called E1 area, on which he expressed his grave disappointment in his statement of 2 December," Ban's spokesperson said in the statement.

Ban's reaction came a day after Israeli police evicted Palestinian and international activists from a protest camp set up in an area in the E1 where Israeli government is planning to construct hundreds of new settler homes despite strong international criticism.

On December 2, Israel had announced plans to construct 3,000 new settler homes in the E1 area located between Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim. The move would effectively cut off Palestinians in East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and divide the occupied Palestinian territory into two. Israel also suspended the transfer of tax revenues from the occupied territory to the Palestinian Authority.

Incidentally, the Israeli move followed a UN General Assembly vote in late November to upgrade Palestine's "permanent observer" status at the world body to that of a "non-member observer state" despite stiff opposition from the United States and Israel. Incidentally, the US veto power at the UN is limited to the UN Security Council (UNSC).

Nevertheless, the Isreali announcements had evoked strong international criticism, with several world leaders warning that the move would adversely affect on going international efforts to restart the currently-stalled Middle East peace process. Also, several nations, including Britain, France, Spain, Denmark and Sweden, summoned Israeli Ambassadors last month to lodge their formal protests at the settlement expansion plans.

The UN chief had responded to Israel's December 2 announcements by expressing "grave concern and disappointment" at the decision, and stressing that it "would represent an almost fatal blow to remaining chances of securing a two-state solution."

Currently, the US-mediated peace talks are deadlocked over Israel's refusal to extend a construction freeze in the West Bank after its expiry on September 26, 2010. Palestinians insist they will return to direct peace talks only if Israel stops settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In the statement issued by his spokesman on Monday, Ban noted that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law, and said: "In this particularly difficult period for the region, all concerned should make serious efforts towards creating the conditions for a resumption of meaningful peace negotiations and to protect the future of the peace process, which is in danger."

On the largely non-violent Palestinian demonstrations in the E1 area and the recent Israeli evacuation of the protesters, Ban's spokesman said: "The Secretary-General stresses the importance for protests to continue to remain peaceful and for the right to peaceful protest to be fully respected."

Israel has settled about 500,000 Jews in more than 100 settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since the 1967 Six-Day War. However, its annexation of the captured area is not recognized by the international community, which considers building settlements in the occupied land as illegal.

A previously agreed 2003 peace plan mediated by the Middle East Quartet, comprising the UN, European Union, the United States and Russia, requires Israel to dismantle settlement outposts erected since 2001 and freeze all settlement activities, while Palestinians are required to halt all violence against Israel. It is ultimately expected to lead to an independent Palestinian State alongside Israel with East Jerusalem as its capital.

by RTT Staff Writer

For comments and feedback: editorial@rttnews.com

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