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Ashton, Merkel: Israeli Settlement Plan Undermined Resumption Of Talks

CatherineAshton 03152010

European Union's foreign-policy head, touring the Middle East, said Israel's new settlement plan in East Jerusalem had endangered and undermined the resumption of indirect negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel.

Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy director, made the 27-nation bloc's position on settlements clear while addressing the Arab League in Cairo Monday.

She reiterated EU's stand that "settlements are illegal, constitute an obstacle to peace, and threaten to make a two State solution impossible."

She reminded that while the EU has "a firm commitment to the security of Israel, we stand up for a deal that delivers justice, freedom, and dignity to the Palestinians."

Ashton tried to infuse a sense of urgency on both sides when she said Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are "urgent because Israel has a popular Prime Minister who owes it to his people to move to the (two-state) solution he supports and the Palestinians, despite everything ... are willing to engage."

Ashton, who is also scheduled to visit Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank during her first tour of the region since taking office in January, said the primary purpose of her visit was "to show the continued importance that the EU attaches to the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict."

She said she will also go to Gaza, where the people are suffering from the blockade.

Also Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel joined the list of Western leaders who came out against Israel's decision last week to approve the building of 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem.

Talking to reporters after holding talks with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Berlin, Merkel said "We have suffered a serious blow to the question of proximity talks between the Palestinians and Israel."

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