Last Updated: Mon Nov 01, 2010 20:21 pm (KSA) 17:21 pm (GMT)

Palestinians blast settlements during peace talks

An Israeli protester on March 16 (File)
An Israeli protester on March 16 (File)

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks resumed on a sour note on Monday with the Palestinian negotiator blasting Israel for vowing to continue settlement activity in the occupied West Bank.

"There was a meeting to resume the negotiations but after what the Israeli prime minister said about settlements, the meeting was an unofficial not an official meeting," former Palestinian premier Ahmed Qurei said after his two-hour meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in Jerusalem.

Just hours before the talks, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reiterated Israel would continue to build Jewish settlements in annexed east Jerusalem -- despite international concern that the action could hamper peace talks.

"I expressed our strong anger and complete rejection of this position which was declared by the Israeli prime minister," Qurei said in a statement, adding that it violated Israel's commitment to the international roadmap peace plan.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Arye Mekel said Livni and Qurei "restarted their dialogue", but he gave no further details.

The last time the two met was on February 19 when Olmert and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas chaired a session of the Middle East peace talks that were relaunched in late November to great fanfare under U.S. stewardship.

Abbas had suspended the talks on March 2 amid Israeli army operations in Hamas-run Gaza in response to increased rocket fire, a massive assault that killed more than 130 Palestinians, including dozens of civilians.

Five Israelis were killed during the fighting.

On a subsequent visit to the region, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the two sides had agreed to resume negotiations, but new Israeli settlement projects in the occupied West Bank have since heightened tensions.

Contacts between the two sides officially restarted on Friday, when Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad and a senior Israeli defense ministry official met Lieutenant General William Fraser, a U.S. envoy charged with overseeing the implementation of the 2003 roadmap peace blueprint.

The internationally-drafted document calls on Israel to freeze settlement activity and the Palestinians to improve security in the territories, but on Friday both sides accused the other of shirking their obligations.

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