27 Jun 2009

International leaders call on Israel to halt settlements

12:57 pm on 27 June 2009

The quartet of Middle East peace negotiators and the Group of Eight have urged Israel to freeze West Bank settlements.

The quartet - the European Union, Russia, the United States and the United Nations - met in the northeastern Italian city of Trieste to try to jumpstart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

"We are urging Israeli authorities to stop settlements, including natural (demographic) growth," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a news conference on Friday.

Just hours earlier, the Group of Eight leading world powers, also meeting in Trieste, made the same appeal, calling "on both parties to fulfill their obligations under the roadmap, including a freeze on settlement activity".

The international community considers the settlements in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, which Israel seized in the 1967 Six Day war, to be illegal.

In recent weeks the United States, Italy and France have all called for a settlement freeze.

The Palestinians have said they will not meet with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu until Israel halts all settlement activity.

While Mr Netanyahu has vowed not to build new settlements, he insists on allowing for "natural growth" within existing settlements.

The Israeli leader for the first time earlier this month endorsed the two-state solution to the Middle East conflict, which is the cornerstone of international Middle East peacemaking efforts for years.