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Construction restarts at West Bank settlement sites

From Kevin Flower, CNN
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Israel restarts settlement building
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: U.N. chief expresses disappointment in the expiration of the moratorium
  • Abbas urges Israel to extend the moratorium for 3 or 4 months
  • New construction started the day after a moratorium ended
  • Palestinians have threatened to quit peace talks over the issue

Jerusalem (CNN) -- New construction began at settlement sites in the West Bank Monday, just hours after the expiration of a 10-month Israeli government moratorium on building.

CNN witnessed new settlement construction in two locations in the West Bank.

Bulldozers and other construction equipment were used at the settlements of Revava and Ariel, and a steady flow of construction equipment and vehicles were transported on tractor trailers on West Bank highways connecting various settlements.

The new building casts a shadow over the continuation of face-to-face peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians that began this month.

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, meeting in Paris with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, publicly urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to extend the moratorium "for three or four months while there are negotiations underway."

Sarkozy said he was "sorry to hear that the unanimous calls to extend a freeze on Israeli colonization were not heard."

"The colonization must stop," he said. "Peace in the Middle East affects Europe, (and) this ongoing crisis contributes to terrorist networks."

Sarkozy said he would ask Abbas, Netanyahu and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to meet for peace talks in Paris next month.

A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released a statement indicating the secretary-general was "disappointed" that the moratorium had been allowed to expire, and "concerned at provocative actions taking place on the ground."

"He reiterates that settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, is illegal under international law, and urges Israel to fulfill its Road Map obligation to freeze settlement activity," the spokesman said.

The resumption of settlement construction is likely to increase the already significant political pressure on Abbas to stop negotiating.

Palestinian officials have previously said that if building resumes on territory they consider part of a future Palestinian state, they will walk away from the negotiations.

Yet Abbas has not yet pulled out, indicating that he wants to discuss the issue first with his Fatah party and the Arab League.

That is causing "concern" within Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organization, Sabri Saidam, the deputy speaker of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, told CNN Monday.

The Arab League is to meet next week. Abbas said he will meet with other Arab leaders at the conference on October 4.

"We are not going to make a quick decision right now to say that we will or won't, we would or we wouldn't like to" continue talks, Abbas said Monday. "We will study all the consequences with other Palestinian leaders as well as with other Arab countries."

While in France, Abbas also plans to talk about the peace process with French Prime Minister Francois Fillion, Abbas's spokesman said.

He met with Jewish leaders in Paris on Sunday to discuss the peace talks, CNN affiliate BFM television reported.

Speaking at the United Nations on Saturday, Abbas said Israel "must choose between peace and the continuation of settlements."

In a statement shortly after the moratorium expired at midnight Sunday (6 p.m. ET Sunday), Netanyahu urged Palestinians not to walk away from newly resumed peace talks over the lapsed restrictions.

Israel "is ready to hold continuous contacts in the coming days in order to find a way to continue the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority," Netanyahu said.

He asked Abbas to "stay in the talks and, with me, continue on the road towards peace."

CNN's Kareem Khadder, Winnie Andrews and Mike Schwartz contributed to this report.

 
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