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Jerusalem panel urges pressing Israel over settlements

Jan. 19, 2014 10:58 A.M. (Updated: Jan. 20, 2014 5:30 P.M.)
MARRAKECH, Morocco (AFP) -- Muslim nations urged the international community Saturday to put pressure on Israel to stop building Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, at the end of talks in Morocco.

The Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Committee made the call amid heightened concerns settlements could undermine US-brokered peace talks that resumed in July after becoming bogged down three years earlier over the construction drive.

"The international community must ... put pressure on Israel to stop the illegal and provocative settlement construction," a statement said at the end of the two-day meeting in Marrakesh.

That "will create a favorable context for the pursuit of peace negotiations" between Israel and the Palestinians, and for relations between Israel, its Arab neighbors and the Muslim world, the statement added.

The panel also praised the United States as a "serious" broker of the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

The committee was founded by the pan-Muslim Organization of Islamic Cooperation in 1975 to resist the confiscation of Palestinian land and assets in Jerusalem.

Chairman King Mohamed VI of Morocco opened the meeting Friday by calling for "a strong mobilization of our own means and resources ... to defend the Holy City."

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas later claimed Israel was using the peace talks as a "cover" to expand settlements in the West Bank.

Concerns over settlement construction returned to the fore last week when Israel announced plans to build 1,800 new settler homes in the West Bank, including annexed Arab East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as the capital of their future state.

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

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

After Israel unveiled the plans, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon launched a tirade against Secretary of State John Kerry for his "obsession" with brokering a framework peace deal by April, sparking a diplomatic spat with Washington.

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

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

Meanwhile the financial arm of the Jerusalem Committee, Bayt Mal al-Qods, called on the 57 members of the OIC to provide financial contributions to fund health, education and social projects in the Holy City.

The financial commission carried out 130 projects in Jerusalem between 2008-2012 worth $30 million in the health, housing, education and other sectors.
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