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EU foreign affairs chief criticizes Israeli settlement plan as roadblock on the way to peace
BRUSSELS (AP) ' The European Union's foreign policy chief said Tuesday that Israel's plan to build 1,100 new housing units in occupied east Jerusalem "should be reversed" since it undermines peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
Catherine Ashton told the EU parliament that she heard "with deep regret" that Israeli settlement plans were continuing and planned to take up the issue again with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when she next meets him.
"He should stop announcing them and, more importantly, stop building them," she told legislators in Strasbourg, France.
In an interview published Tuesday, Netanyahu ruled out any freeze in settlement construction, which could further raise tensions in the area following last week's Palestinian move to seek U.N. membership.
Ashton said the expansion of settlements "threatens the viability of an agreed two-state solution" proposed by the Quartet of Mideast mediators: the EU, the United States, Russia and the United Nations.
The Israeli government on Tuesday backed the construction of 1,100 new homes in occupied east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as their future capital. The government said construction could begin after a mandatory 60-day period for public comment.
"This plan should be reversed," Ashton said.
Ashton said there was little hope any of the people moving into the proposed settlements would ever be able to live a full life there.
"It is wrong to get people to live in a place which, when you look at a negotiated settlement, they will probably have to move from. Actually, that doesn't make any sense to me," she told the legislators.
The Quartet is calling for negotiations to resume in a month and a peace deal by the end of 2012. Ashton said that any momentum would be immediately undermined by the east Jerusalem housing plan.
"We called for parties to refrain from provocative actions if negotiations are really going to resume and, more importantly, be effective," she said.
Such calls received international backing.
"This sends the wrong signal at this sensitive time," Richard Miron, spokesman for United Nations Special Coordinator Robert Sery, said in a statement.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said the plan was going in the face of plans to negotiate.
"Provocative of Israel to announce new settlements in East Jerusalem now. Clearly contrary to Middle East Peace Quartet demand," he wrote in a Tweet message.