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Jerusalem panel meets amid Israel-EU settlement row

Jan. 18, 2014 9:33 A.M. (Updated: Jan. 19, 2014 7:47 P.M.)
MARRAKESH, Morocco (AFP) -- Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas warned on Friday against Israel using peace talks as a "cover" to expand settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Abbas was speaking in Morocco at a meeting of the Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Committee amid heightened concern by Arab and Western nations over new Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

The US-brokered peace talks must "not serve as a cover for the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories," said Abbas.

Israel last week announced plans to build some 1,800 new homes for Jewish settlers in the West Bank, including annexed East Jerusalem.

The announcement came only days after the latest peace mission by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who slammed the settlements as "illegitimate" and "unhelpful."

The controversial decision prompted Britain, Italy, France, and Spain to summon Israeli ambassadors in protest, with Israel calling in European ambassadors on Friday in a tit-for-tat move.

"There can be no peace without stability, nor agreement without occupied east Jerusalem being recognized as the capital of the Palestinian state," Abbas said.

The Al-Quds Committee was founded by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in 1975 to resist the confiscation of Palestinian land and assets in Jerusalem.

Speaking at the opening of the two-day meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco's King Mohamed VI, as president of the committee, called for "a strong mobilization of our own means and resources ... to defend the Holy City."

After Israel unveiled its new settlement plans last week a furious row erupted with the United States, when Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon launched a bitter personal tirade against Secretary of State John Kerry for his "obsession" with brokering a framework peace deal with the Palestinians by April.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday accused the European Union of a "hypocritical" attitude toward the Middle East peace process, saying it should be more concerned by Palestinian militancy than Israeli housing construction.

The international community considers all settlements to be illegal that were built on land seized by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War.

The Palestinians want any peace deal to recognize borders based on the lines that existed before then, when Israel captured the West Bank, including east Jerusalem.
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