x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Abbas urges US to help halt Israeli settler expansion

Israel plans to build 1,400 settler homes and will announce the projects next week after releasing a group of Palestinian prisoners on Sunday.

JERUSALEM // Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, has appealed to the United States to stop Israeli settler expansion.

Israel plans to build 1,400 settler homes and will announce the projects next week after releasing a group of Palestinian prisoners on Monday. The prisoner release had been scheduled for Sunday but technical issues delayed the release one day, according to the US state department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki

In a late-night meeting on Thursday with Martin Indyk, the US envoy for Israeli-Palestinian talks, Mr Abbas “asked for US intervention to stop the Israeli government from issuing new settlement decisions to save the peace process and the American efforts”, top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said.

Mr Erekat said settler expansion would “destroy the peace process” and could be met with retaliation.

“We in the Palestinian leadership would immediately present our application for membership in 63 international organisations, among them the International Criminal Court,” Al Quds newspaper quoted Mr Erekat as saying on Friday.

Israel officials have said the planned construction of new units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem will be announced next week.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s premier, has previously issued similar construction announcements to blunt hardline criticism of prisoner releases. It will be the third of four planned releases.

The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem and the West Bank, areas captured by Israel in the 1967 war, as parts of a future independent state. They say that Israeli settlement construction is a sign of bad faith. With more than 550,000 Israelis living in areas captured in 1967, the Palestinians say time is quickly running out on hopes to divide the land.

The planned Israeli announcement will almost certainly spark a crisis in the peace talks, which resumed last July after a nearly five-year break. Under heavy pressure from US ecretary of stat, e John Kerry, the Palestinians were forced to drop a demand for a halt in settlement construction. In exchange, Israel agreed to release 104 of the longest-serving Palestinian prisoners it holds.

The new construction plans include 600 new homes in Ramat Shlomo, an enclave in East Jerusalem, and about 800 additional homes in the West Bank, according to an Israeli official

Reuters with additional reporting by Associated Press