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Egypt, Jordan back Palestinians on settlements

CAIRO — Key U.S. Mideast allies Egypt and Jordan on Sunday backed the Palestinian refusal to negotiate with Israel as long as it continues to build West Bank settlements, but they urged more efforts to salvage peace talks mediated by Washington.

U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell held separate meetings with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo and Jordanian King Abdullah II in Amman.

"We understand the Palestinian position which calls for setting the appropriate environment and circumstances for negotiations to take place and continue," Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said after Mubarak met Mitchell. "The current conditions are not favorable."

Israel refused last week to extend its 10-month moratorium on new construction in West Bank settlements, throwing the month-old peace talks into doubt because Palestinians have repeatedly threatened to quit if building resumes.

Aboul Gheit said the focus now should be on continued U.S. and international efforts to pressure Israel to extend the moratorium.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says there is no point negotiating as long as settlements are eating up the land the Palestinians want for a future state. On Saturday, senior Palestinian officials backed Abbas refusal and said they are now considering alternatives to the direct negotiations if Israel doesn't budge.

In Jordan, Abdullah met separately with Mitchell and Abbas and he said Israel's refusal to stop settlements undermines peacemaking. But he stopped short of calling on the Palestinians to end negotiations.

A Royal Palace statement said Abdullah told Abbas that "you have Jordan's full support for the establishment of a Palestinian state, which requires an end to Israel's unilateral actions … primarily settlement building." Another palace statement said Abdullah told Mitchell the U.S. role was crucial for peacemaking to continue.

Mitchell and the leaders discussed the impasse ahead of an Arab League this week where Palestinians are expected to come to a decision on whether to continue talks with Israel.

Mideast news

• Two Israeli soldiers have been convicted of using a 9-year-old Palestinian boy as a human shield during last year's Gaza war. Sunday's ruling was the most serious conviction yet connected to soldiers' war conduct in Gaza. Israel has faced widespread criticism that it failed to properly investigate alleged wrongdoing by troops during the three-week military operation. Some 1,400 Palestinians were killed, including hundreds of civilians.

• Israeli police shot and killed a construction worker after he used a rope to scale a towering wall meant to keep Palestinians from sneaking into Israel. Izzedine Kawazbeh, a 35-year-old father of five, was part of a group of Palestinian construction workers trying to enter Israel without permits when he was killed in east Jerusalem near the West Bank separation barrier.

Egypt, Jordan back Palestinians on settlements 10/03/10 [Last modified: Sunday, October 3, 2010 10:34pm]
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