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Middle east

Netanyahu in Europe amid mounting pressure over settlements

©

Video by Kate WILLIAMS

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-08-25

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has arrived in London on a four-day European tour amid international pressure over Israeli settlements. He is also expected to meet British and German leaders to discuss Iran's nuclear ambitions.

AFP - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in London on Monday at the start of a four-day European trip, facing international pressure over his settlement policies.
   
Netanyahu is set to discuss with his British and German hosts the campaign against arch-foe Iran's nuclear drive, with the United States threatening new sanctions if Tehran fails to return to the negotiating table.
   
Before leaving Israel he suggested he would stand firm on settlements and on Jerusalem, which Israel considers its undivided capital while Palestinians see the annexed eastern part as the capital of their future state.
   
"The prime minister will make it clear that during the process Israel will not allow any limitation or restriction of its sovereignty over Jerusalem and that there must be guarantees settlers can lead a normal life," a senior official said.
   
US President Barack Obama's administration has been pressing for a freeze on settlement construction as a key step towards reviving peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
   
Netanyahu rejects a total freeze, but has agreed to a temporarily halt in inviting construction tenders for Israeli homes in the occupied West Bank, which Obama called a step in the right direction.
   
The Israeli premier is to hold talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Obama's Middle East envoy George Mitchell in London before heading to Berlin for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel.
   
"In his meeting with George Mitchell, the prime minister expects some progress but not a breakthrough," a senior official said.
   
Mitchell has held intensive talks with Israeli officials in recent months amid a rare public row between the two staunch allies over Washington's demand  that Israel halt all settlement activity on occupied Palestinian land.
   
Britain and Germany are among the states that back the US demand, seen as key for reviving the peace talks which were halted last December when Israel launched a deadly offensive against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
   
Netanyahu has said he hopes negotiations with the Palestinians can resume next month after the UN General Assembly.
   
The issue of Israeli settlements, which the international community consider illegal, is one of the main obstacles in the peace process and the Palestinians have said they will not resume talks without a freeze.
   
Netanyahu's outspoken Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has described  Obama's vision for regional peace as "unrealistic."
   
The ultra-nationalist, who is known for his anti-Arab stance, said he did not see a peace agreement based on a two-state solution "even in another 16 years."
   
Mitchell, in a series of regional missions, has been urging Arab states to also make gestures towards Israel as a way of advancing efforts to forge a comprehensive peace deal.
   
King Abdullah II of Jordan -- which along with Egypt is the only Arab state to have a peace treaty with Israel -- held telephone talks with Netanyahu on Sunday and is due to visit Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to meet his counterpart King Abdullah.
   
Netanyahu's talks with the European leaders are also set to focus on efforts to halt Iran's sensitive nuclear work, which Israel and the West believe is aimed at developing an atomic bomb -- a claim Tehran denies.
   
He expects to discuss "the need to apply maximum pressure on Iran in order to stop its programme and efforts to develop nuclear weapons," a senior official said.
   
Israel, considered the region's sole if undeclared nuclear armed state, refuses to rule out military action against Iran's nuclear facilities and has carried out a number of military exercises seen as a signal of its intentions.
 

Date created : 2009-08-24

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