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Middle East

Clinton criticises Israel's plans to demolish Palestinian homes

Latest update : 2009-03-04

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (left) has criticised Israeli plans to demolish dozens of Palestinian homes in parts of Arab East Jerusalem. Clinton was speaking after talks in Ramallah with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

AFP - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Israel to allow more aid into Gaza, blasted its plans for demolishing houses in east Jerusalem and vowed to work towards a Palestinian state as she met with president Mahmud Abbas on Wednesday.

"The United States aims to foster conditions in which a Palestinian state can be fully realised," she said after talks with Abbas in the occupied West Bank on the second day of a maiden trip to the region.

"Time is of the essence," she said.

US President Barack Obama has vowed to vigorously pursue Israeli-Palestinian peace talks which were relaunched to great fanfare in November 2007 but were frozen during Israel's offensive on the Gaza Strip in December and January.

Clinton also urged Israel to allow more humanitarian supplies into the war-shattered Gaza Strip.

"We have obviously expressed concerns about the border crossings. We want humanitarian aid to get into Gaza in sufficient amounts to alleviate the suffering of the people in Gaza," she said.

Abbas, speaking to reporters at the same press conference, made a similar call, and urged Israel to halt settlement activity and housing demolitions in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

"The incoming Israeli government ... (must) respect the roadmap and two-state solution and should stop all settlement activity and reopen the border crossings" into Gaza, Abbas said.

Both criticised the Israeli-run Jerusalem municipality's decision to destroy dozens of homes built without permits in mostly Arab east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians have demanded as their future capital.

"Clearly this kind of activity is unhelpful and not in keeping with the obligations entered into under the roadmap," Clinton said, referring to a blueprint for peace talks adopted by the international community in 2003.

"It is an issue that we intend to raise with the government in Israel and the government at the municipal level in Jerusalem because it is clearly a matter of deep concern," she added.

Abbas also spoke out against the demolitions, saying "the message to us is very clear -- whoever takes these sorts of measures does not want peace."

Clinton had earlier held talks with prime minister Salam Fayyad and visited a school in the West Bank political capital of Ramallah a day after meeting with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem.

On her first visit to the region since her appointment by US President Barack Obama, Clinton announced she was sending two envoys to Syria and vowed to pursue regional peace efforts while stressing that Israel could count on continued support from its staunchest ally.

Two members of her delegation -- Jeffrey Feltman and Daniel Shapiro -- are expected to travel to Syria at the end of the week, in what will be highest level contacts since January 2005.

For years, the United States has had strained relations with Syria, a longtime foe of the Jewish state.

Clinton also said the special US envoy for the peace talks, veteran diplomat George Mitchell, would return to the region after the formation of a new Israeli government, which is expected to be led by the hawkish Likud party.

In her meetings with Israeli leaders, Clinton underscored the US commitment to a two-state solution, saying the first step is to have durable ceasefire in Gaza, which has been ruled by the Islamist Hamas movement since June 2007.

Rocket attacks by Gaza militants and raids by Israeli forces have continued since the January 18 end of a 22-military offensive that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians in the impoverished territory.

Early on Wednesday, Israeli warplanes launched two new raids on smuggling tunnels linking Gaza to Egypt without causing casualties.

Her visit comes when relations between the US and Israel are in a flux.

While Obama has vowed to vigorously pursue Middle East peace, presumptive Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will likely preside over a narrow right-wing coalition that is opposed to a Palestinian state.

As premier in 1996, Netanyahu put the brakes on the Oslo peace process. He has said he will now focus on building up the Palestinian economy instead of immediately pushing for a final settlement.

Date created : 2009-03-04