22 Mar 2010

Netanyahu stands firm on Jerusalem settlements

9:58 pm on 22 March 2010

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has ruled out any concession on the building of settlements in East Jerusalem, despite international pressure.

Mr Netanyahu said he had written to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to remove any doubt about the issue.

"As far as we are concerned, building in Jerusalem is like building in Tel Aviv," he told his cabinet.

The BBC reports that he made the remarks hours before he left for Washington to address the influential pro-Israeli group Aipac.

He has been invited to meet President Barack Obama on Tuesday, indicating a possible thaw in relations.

Denounced by Palestinian president

Tensions between the two allies has been running high over Israel's announcement to build 1600 new homes in East Jerusalem, occupied by Israel since 1967, despite US efforts to re-launch stalled peace talks.

Mr Netanyahu's comments on settlements were quickly denounced by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas as unhelpful to attempts to restart peace talks.

The invitation to the White House was delivered by Mr Obama's special Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, who met Mr Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Sunday.

On a day of intense diplomatic activity in the region, Mr Netanyahu also met UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who was on a rare two-day visit to the region.