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Australia FM: Settlements 'destroying' chance for peace

Dec. 11, 2010 7:23 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 12, 2010 9:31 P.M.)
CAIRO (AFP) - Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd warned in talks with Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak on Saturday that time is running out on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Canberra is concerned because "no real progress" has been made in the US-brokered peace process and time is "running out," Rudd told reporters after the meeting in Cairo.

The construction of new Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank undermines the push for a peace settlement, which should pave the way for an independent Palestinian state and guarantee Israeli's security, he said.

Rudd later met Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit and said at a joint news conference that Israeli settlements contribute to "destroying" the chances of peace.

The Australian foreign minister said he expected to visit Israel soon and would reiterate this position, adding however that Israel had security fears and that these should be taken into account.

Abul Gheit said all eyes were now on what steps the United States will take to help kick-start peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, noting that US Middle East envoy George Mitchell was due back in the region on Monday.

"The Americans have not said they gave up their efforts... We will listen to their point of view," he said.

On Friday, Rudd issued a joint call with Arab League chief Amr Moussa, whom he also met in Cairo, for an urgent resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

The peace process was thrown into disarray last Tuesday when Washington conceded that it had failed in its weeks-long efforts to persuade Israel to renew a freeze on Jewish settlement building in the West Bank.

US-brokered direct peace talks were relaunched in Washington on September 2 but stalled three weeks later when an Israeli settlement moratorium expired and the Palestinians refused to return to the negotiating table.

Washington is pushing for a resumption of talks and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday urged Israel and the Palestinians to tackle "without delay" the core issues of their decades-old conflict.

Rudd arrived on Friday in Cairo for a three-day visit to mark the 60th anniversary of the launch of diplomatic ties between Australia and Egypt.
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