Last Updated: Wed Nov 03, 2010 13:12 pm (KSA) 10:12 am (GMT)

Israel refuses to halt settlements in Jerusalem

A Palestinian construction worker at a complex being built in the Jerusalem settlement of Gilo
A Palestinian construction worker at a complex being built in the Jerusalem settlement of Gilo

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that a temporary ease on settlement building approved by the security cabinet on Wednesday did not include Jerusalem and was only for the West Bank.

Netanyahu's comments came hours after a proposal for a 10-month settlement freeze in the West Bank, which the United State was quick to praise as a "move forward" to revive Middle East talks.

"We believe that through good-faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement.

United States Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell said the decision fell short of a full settlement freeze but described it as "significant" and said it "could have a substantial impact on the ground."

Meanwhile the Palestinians said the offer fell short of their terms as they have been demanding a complete halt as a condition for resuming peace talks with Israel.

 This sort of announcement is not a halt to settlements, because Israel will continue to build 3,000 settlement units and government buildings in the West Bank and will exclude Jerusalem 
Chief Palestinian negotiator

They warned that they would reject any Israeli offer of a halt to settlement activity that does not cover construction already under way and fails to extend to east Jerusalem.

"This sort of announcement is not a halt to settlements, because Israel will continue to build 3,000 settlement units and government buildings in the West Bank and will exclude Jerusalem," said chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat.

On the Israeli side, Netanyahu's proposal also stirred anger among some of his allies.

Prisoner deal

Israelis demonstrate for Gilad Shalit

Meanwhile Israel rejected a demand for the release of two Hamas commanders as part of any exchange for captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, a source close to negotiations said on Wednesday.

"Hamas still insists on its demands," the source, who declined to be named, told Reuters, naming the two top Hamas prisoners as Ibrahim Hamed and Abdallah Barghouti.

An Israeli official said: "We're not willing to discuss publicly at this stage the names of the people who might or might not be in a swap."

Hamas negotiators who have been consulting their exiled leadership in Damascus would return on Wednesday evening to Egypt, which together with Germany has been mediating the indirect talks between the enemies.

Senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya was quoted by a pro-Hamas website as saying Israel was responsible for undermining a deal because it had not agreed to the demands of the Palestinian factions holding captured soldier Gilad Shalit.

The Palestinian factions hope to exchange Shalit, held since 2006, for hundreds of prisoners held by Israel.

 We're not willing to discuss publicly at this stage the names of the people who might or might not be in a swap 
Israeli official

Abdallah Barghouti is serving 67 life terms for his role in attacks on Israelis. Hamed was head of Hamas armed wing in the West Bank before his arrest.

Israel has long balked at granting amnesty to Palestinians jailed for attacks that killed its citizens. While signaling flexibility in its bid to recover Shalit, the Israeli government is wary of a domestic backlash over a deal that bolsters Hamas.

Netanyahu said on Tuesday an agreement had not been reached and might not happen following speculation that one could be reached by the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday on Friday.

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