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Egypt says no Mideast peace talks until end of settlements
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 30 - 12 - 2009

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said Tuesday that Middle East peace talks could not be relaunched until Israel halts its settlement activity.
The diplomatic chief was speaking after talks in Cairo between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
“The talks were very positive,” Abul Gheit told reporters.
“We have seen that the Israeli prime minister wants to move ahead (with negotiations), and he insists on moving ahead, but we insist on an agreed platform.”
“There are conditions... we will not negotiate while settlement continues,” he said.
On the eve of Netanyahu's Cairo visit, Israel invited tenders for the building of hundreds of homes in Jewish settlements in annexed Arab east Jerusalem.
The Palestinian Authority condemned the tender and the White House said it “opposes new Israeli construction in east Jerusalem.”
Netanyahu last month announced a 10-month moratorium on new housing projects in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank in a move he said was aimed at helping kick-start the peace talks suspended during the Gaza war a year ago.
The moratorium does not include public buildings or construction under way and does not apply to occupied and annexed east Jerusalem, which Israelis consider part of their capital.
The Palestinians have rejected the moratorium, saying it fell far short of their demand for a complete halt of settlement activity in the whole West Bank, including annexed east Jerusalem, which they want as the capital of their promised state.
Egypt also asked Israel Tuesday to ease restrictions on the movement of Palestinians, but it was not clear if the talks in Cairo made any progress on a proposed Israeli-Palestinian prisoner swap.
It was Netanyahu's third visit to Egypt since taking office in March. Egypt has been mediating talks over a prisoner trade between Israel and the Islamist group Hamas that controls Gaza.
“We requested that Israel take many internal steps to lift the pressure off of Palestinians such as checkpoints that allow freedom of movement,” Aboul Gheit said at a news conference after the talks with President Mubarak.
“Israel promised to take steps that would ease pressure on Palestinians.”
Israel has placed checkpoints throughout the West Bank and also controls the air space, sea access and most of the entry points into the coastal enclave of Gaza.
Hamas took control of Gaza after 2007 fighting with the Fatah group of US-allied Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who remains in control of Palestinian towns in the West Bank, a separate territory, occupied by Israel in 1967.
Aboul Gheit said the talks had not discussed in detail the possible release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier seized in Gaza three years ago.
The meeting took place as a Hamas official said his group had rejected Israel's latest proposal for a prisoner swap with the militants.
A top Hamas official in Syria told The Associated Press that the deal is on hold because Israel was refusing to release key prisoners and insisting on mass deportations of freed militants.
The peace process and prisoner swaps were high on Netanyahu's agenda Tuesday.
The United Nations and Western powers hope such a deal will lead to a relaxation of the blockade on Gaza, which was the target of a three-week Israeli offensive a year ago to stop Palestinians firing rockets into Israeli towns.

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