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Rice urges Israel to halt settlement activity

March 31, 2008 4:55 P.M. (Updated: March 31, 2008 4:55 P.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an/Agencies - US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on Monday for a halt to Israeli settlement construction following news of Israeli plans for hundreds of new apartments in illegal settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

"We continue to state America's position that settlement activity should stop, that its expansion should stop - that is indeed not consistent with 'road map' obligations," Rice said at a press conference in the Jordanian capital, Amman, Jordan with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Rice also expressed confidence, despite ongoing settlement activity, that a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement can be reached by the end of 2008.

"I have to say I find very impressive the work that is being done and the seriousness of the process and I think it's all moving in the right direction," she said.

Abbas agreed that an agreement is possible this year, before US President George W. Bush leaves office in 2009.

"I am confident, God willing, we will reach a comprehensive peace in 2008. We, the Israelis and the Americans and all the concerned parties in the region, are working to achieve this," Abbas said.

Barak pledges to ease restrictions

On Sunday, Rice held a trilateral meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. During that meeting, Barak presented a plan to make small improvements in Palestinians' freedom of movement in the West Bank.

The package of improvements, which Barak says he has approved but has yet to be confirmed on the ground, includes the removal of 50 earth mounds (out of more than 500 Israeli road blocks in the West Bank), the establishment of Palestinian police stations in Area B, and the issuance of 5,000 permits for Palestinian construction workers to enter Israel, among other measures.

The Israeli government also pledged that "an inquiry into lifting additional roadblocks and checkpoints in Judea and Samaria [the occupied West Bank] will be carried out in the coming weeks, with the intention of completion by mid-May."

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