22 Sep 2010

Mid-East quartet urges extension to housing ban

8:49 pm on 22 September 2010

An international quartet of Middle East peace negotiators has called on Israel to extend its moratorium on West Bank settlement building.

The moratorium is due to expire at the end of September.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly said he will walk away from direct peace talks with Israel if the construction of settlements is resumed.

The quartet also encouraged both sides to continue their newly resumed direct talks "in a constructive manner".

The BBC reports senior diplomats from the quartet - the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia - met on Tuesday at the UN's headquarters in New York to discuss a way forward in the negotiations.

"The quartet noted that the commendable Israeli settlement moratorium instituted last November has had a positive impact and urged its continuation," a statement said afterwards.

"The quartet encouraged the parties to work together to find a way to ensure that negotiations continue in a constructive manner."

Earlier, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon indicated that his government disagreed with the view that ending the settlement construction freeze threatened to bring a premature halt to the talks.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will not extend the freeze, but indicated he could limit construction work to major settlement blocs.

Before the Quartet meeting, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the next 10 days would be "decisive and determine the fate of the direct negotiations".