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French Version

Jordan's king urges Olmert to halt settlement activity

Jordan's King Abdullah warned Israel on Thursday against expanding its settlements on occupied Arab land and said such moves threatened to obstruct progress on a lasting peace accord, a palace official said. The monarch told Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert, whom he met during previously unannounced talks at the royal palace in the Red Sea port of Aqaba, that Israel's settlement policy in the Occupied West Bank was a violation of the US-backed peace talks launched in Annapolis, Maryland, in November.

"His Majesty told Olmert [that] Jordan was opposed to any settlement activity on Palestinian lands as such activity is a stark violation of agreements reached at the US-hosted conference," the official said.

Israeli officials have said Israel may allow construction within built-up areas of existing Jewish settlements in the Occupied West Bank, but would not expand beyond those areas.

The Palestinians say the peace negotiations, the first in seven years, hinge on Israel committing to halt all settlement activity, including so-called "natural growth," as called for under a long-stalled "road map" peace plan.

Israel has announced plans to build hundreds of new homes in an area near Jerusalem known to Israelis as Har Homa and to Palestinians as Abu Ghneim.

The monarch said such a unilateral move could cast doubt on the sincerity of renewed peace negotiations after the Annapolis meeting, in which the leaders set the goal of reaching an agreement before US President George W. Bush leaves office in January 2009.

"His Majesty urged Israel to halt unilateral activities that may obstruct progress in the negotiations and urged Tel Aviv to adopt serious and practical policies that reflect its stated desire for peace," the Jordanian palace official said.

Abdullah also urged Olmert to strive for a comprehensive peace treaty that resolves substantive final status issues such as borders, the future of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.

Many of Jordan's 5.7 million citizens are Palestinians whose families settled there after successive Arab-Israeli wars, placing the kingdom, which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, at the heart of the conflict.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was also in Jordan Thursday for a Palestinian National Council meeting. Abbas will visit Saudi Arabia on Saturday for talks on the situation in the Palestinian territories ahead of Bush's trip to the region, the Palestinian ambassador in Riyadh said on Thursday.

Abbas will also brief Abdullah and other Saudi officials on the status of talks with Israel "which have not yielded results because of Israel's ongoing settlement policy and procrastination," said the ambassador, Jamal al-Shobaki.

He added that the discussions will cover Bush's visit next week, when the US president will visit Israel and the Palestinian territories in a bid to give a push to the peace process.

Bush's tour will include a stop in Saudi Arabia.

In preparation for his first visit to the region, the White House on Thursday said Bush was committed to a diplomatic push for peace in the Mideast.

"He'll be talking about Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, as well as Israeli-Arab reconciliation, and the overall situation of ... Middle East regional security," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters.

"The parties are continuing to try to meet and talk, but obviously it's fraught with a lot of tension," she added.

Asked if the violence in Gaza could undermine Bush's diplomatic effort, Perino said there were concerns over security but that the president was committed to helping the Israeli and Palestinian leaders forge peace.

"Everybody is concerned about the violence. It's one of the reasons that the president has helped these two leaders come together and launch negotiations so that they could get to a place where they have a Palestinian state. They support two states living side by side in peace," she said.

Olmert and Abbas were "willing to work together," Perino said, but she added that "it's going to be a long road ahead because there's a lot of history and a lot of tension, a lot of politics, and a lot of concern about security."

Bush says he is committed to a comprehensive peace deal by the end of 2008.

Marseille,01 11 2008
The Daily Star
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