Abbas: Israel must stop East Jerusalem construction

Abbas: Israel must stop East Jerusalem construction

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Wednesday stood firm on his demand that Israel freeze all its construction in occupied territory - including East Jerusalem, DPA reported.

While the Palestinians had implemented their obligations under interim agreements, Israel should do the same, he told a news conference in Ramallah with visiting Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

"The most important in these is freezing settlement activities in all the Palestinian areas, including Jerusalem," he said.

The Palestinians "insist on meeting these obligations so that we can go to indirect negotiations."

He denied the demand for a total construction freeze was a precondition for starting peace talks, because, he said, it was an Israeli obligation under the 2003 "road map" peace plan, sponsored by the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia.

After much pushing by the US, Abbas only 10 days ago had agreed to hold talks - albeit indirect ones - with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu despite the absence of a full settlement freeze that includes also East Jerusalem.

But Israel then announced the construction of 1,600 homes in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Ramat Shlomo just as the new talks were announced and US Vice President Joe Biden was visiting, sparking a severe crisis.

Both US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Abbas are now demanding that Israel cancel the Ramat Shlomo construction plan.

Lula expressed strong support for a Palestinian state.

"I dream of an independent and free Palestine living in peace in the Middle East," he said. "I believe the Palestinians and Israelis are going to share the land of their forefathers."

"The US today is in disagreement and conflict with Israel. It was never expected to see these two allies in such a disagreement. We do not know if this is the missing magic that was needed to reach an agreement," he said.

Lula arrived in Israel on Monday where he met Israeli officials. He traveled to Bethlehem on Tuesday for a tour of the Biblical city and talks with Abbas. Meeting the Palestinian leader for a second time in Ramallah Wednesday, the two signed five bilateral agreements related to agriculture, education, sports, health and tourism.

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