Posts Tagged ‘East Jerusalem’

Taking over Jerusalem

August 6, 2009

Evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and other Palestinian areas are part of a bid to turn East Jerusalem into a unified Jewish Jerusalem

A couple of months ago I spent a fortnight in Palestine with the International Solidarity Movement – activists who help Palestinians non-violently resistactivists. The most pressing of many issues during my stay was the attempts by an Israeli settler company, Nahalat Shimon, backed by the Israeli courts, to cleanse East Jerusalem of its Arab population, focusing its efforts at that time on the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

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West Bank Settlers Top 300,000 as Growth Continues

July 28, 2009

11 New Outposts Set Up in Past Two Days

by Jason Ditz,, July 27, 2009

According to the Israeli military, the population of settlers in the West Bank passed 300,000 for the first time this year, and sits at 304,569 as of the end of June, an increase of 2.3% in the past six months. Usually growth rates are even higher in the second half of the year. The number does not include some 200,000 more settlers living in East Jerusalem.

The announcement comes less than a week after a study by an Israeli think tank showed the heavy subsidies of the settlements by the national government were causing disproportionate increases in the populations of the outposts, at a time when Israel is under increasing pressure to halt their growth.

The Netanyahu government has resisted the calls however, and insists growth will continue. The settlers have considerable sway in Israel’s right-wing government and today held a massive anti-US rally in Jerusalem condemning President Obama’s criticism of the settlements.

The government has tried to salve international criticism with the promise to dismantle the smaller, illegal outposts in the West Bank, but over the past two days it is reported that 11 new outposts were set up by the militant “Youth for Israel” movement, which seemed to consist of little more than a handful of huts set up by teenagers. The Israeli military, however, declined to stop the construction of the new outposts.

Israel uses Hitler picture to sell its settlement expansion

July 25, 2009

Foreign minister orders diplomats to circulate photo ahead of discussions with President Obama’s envoy

By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem | The Independent/UK, July 25, 2009

As the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem at the outbreak of the Second World War, Mohammad Amin al-Husayni was a powerful Nazi sympathiser  - and an assassination target for the Allies.

As the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem at the outbreak of the Second World War, Mohammad Amin al-Husayni was a powerful Nazi sympathiser – and an assassination target for the Allies.

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister, has triggered fresh controversy by urging diplomats abroad to use a 1941 photograph of a Palestinian religious leader meeting Hitler to counter protests against a planned Jewish settlement in Arab East Jerusalem.

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Israel defies US and destroys Palestinian home

April 25, 2009

By Ben Lynfiled in Jeruslaem | The Independent, UK, Apr 23, 2009

Brushing aside international criticism, Israel demolished a Palestinian house in East Jerusalem in the latest in a series of actions that critics say is racheting up tensions in the city, harming chances for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Ammar Hudidon, a resident of the Jebel Mukaber neighbourhood and a father of seven children, said a bulldozer flattened his home yesterday after the Jerusalem municipality said he lacked building permits. Palestinians complain that the permits are virtually impossible to obtain.

A municipality spokesman stressed that the demolition was “conducted completely under the auspices of the Interior Ministry and the government of Israel” and was not ordered by the Mayor, Nir Barkat.

It comes a day after President Barack Obama called on Israelis and Palestinians to take measures to promote peacemaking and two days after a Jerusalem planning committee approved a building project for the headquarters of an Israeli settlement group in Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian area which Jewish settlers are increasingly penetrating.

Israel views East Jerusalem, annexed in 1967, as part of its capital but the annexation is considered illegal by most of the international community.

Moshe Yogev, the treasurer of the Amana Settler Movement, said the building site is close to existing Israeli national police headquarters and government offices in Sheikh Jarrah. “It is not as if we are going there to establish a fact on the ground,” he said.

Mr Yogev said the plan took 14 years to work its way through government and city committees. He was not sure if the settler group would follow through with moving its headquarters there. “We haven’t decided yet,” he said.

Other Israeli changes in Sheikh Jarrah include plans to evict two large families from homes they have occupied for more than 50 years on the grounds that they are not legal owners. It is believed their dwellings will be given over to settlers. Plans to demolish 88 Palestinian homes in the Silwan neighbourhood are temporarily on hold as a result of international pressure.

A British diplomat criticised the Israeli steps last night. “They [the new Israeli government] asked us for a pause while they formulate policy but if there will be a pause in the peace process there also needs to be a pause in the actions we are seeing in East Jerusalem. Such steps contradict Israel’s stated goal of peace,” the diplomat said.

Israeli settlers attack homes and stores in East Jerusalem

March 14, 2009


IMEMC, Thursday March 12, 2009

Palestinian sources reported on Wednesday that a group of extremist Jewish settlers attacked dozens of Palestinian homes and stores in East Jerusalem.

The settlers were marching in the city and chanting slogans against Arabs and Palestinians, calling for their expulsion from the Holy City.

The Israeli police did not attempt to intervene, and allowed the settlers to continue their march, which encouraged them to attack Palestinian property, local sources reported.

The settlers chanted “death to Arabs” and other racists slogans while marching in Arab markets and the alleys of the Old City.

The Palestinian News Agency, WAFA, reported that different settler groups marched in different parts of the Old City under heavy protection and presence of the Israeli military and police.

The police closed main roads in the Old City barring Palestinians from using them in order to allow the settlers to march.

WAFA stated that dozens of extremist Jews arrived in the Old City by special buses, beginning in the early morning hours of Wednesday, and held prayers at the Western Wall before marching in the alleys of Jerusalem.

They were accompanied by settlers living in East Jerusalem, especially from Sheikh Jarrah area and other outposts in East Jerusalem.

Israel annexing East Jerusalem, says EU

March 7, 2009

• Government accused of damaging peace prospects

• Confidential report attacks ‘illegal’ house demolitions

House Demolitions in East Jerusalem

40-year-old Palestinian Mahmoud al-Abbasi stands amid the rubble of his home after it was demolished by the Jerusalem municipality in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. Photograph: Gali Tibbon

A confidential EU report accuses the Israeli government of using settlement expansion, house demolitions, discriminatory housing policies and the West Bank barrier as a way of “actively pursuing the illegal annexation” of East Jerusalem.

The document says Israel has accelerated its plans for East Jerusalem, and is undermining the Palestinian Authority’s credibility and weakening support for peace talks. “Israel’s actions in and around Jerusalem constitute one of the most acute challenges to Israeli-Palestinian peace-making,” says the document, EU Heads of Mission Report on East Jerusalem.

The report, obtained by the Guardian, is dated 15 December 2008. It acknowledges Israel’s legitimate security concerns in Jerusalem, but adds: “Many of its current illegal actions in and around the city have limited security justifications.”

“Israeli ‘facts on the ground’ – including new settlements, construction of the barrier, discriminatory housing policies, house demolitions, restrictive permit regime and continued closure of Palestinian institutions – increase Jewish Israeli presence in East Jerusalem, weaken the Palestinian community in the city, impede Palestinian urban development and separate East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank,” the report says.

The document has emerged at a time of mounting concern over Israeli policies in East Jerusalem. Two houses were demolished on Monday just before the arrival of the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and a further 88 are scheduled for demolition, all for lack of permits. Clinton described the demolitions as “unhelpful”, noting that they violated Israel’s obligations under the US “road map” for peace.

The EU report goes further, saying that the demolitions are “illegal under international law, serve no obvious purpose, have severe humanitarian effects, and fuel bitterness and extremism.” The EU raised its concern in a formal diplomatic representation on December 1, it says.

It notes that although Palestinians in the east represent 34% of the city’s residents, only 5%-10% of the municipal budget is spent in their areas, leaving them with poor services and infrastructure.

Israel issues fewer than 200 permits a year for Palestinian homes and leaves only 12% of East Jerusalem available for Palestinian residential use. As a result many homes are built without Israeli permits. About 400 houses have been demolished since 2004 and a further 1,000 demolition orders have yet to be carried out, it said.

City officials dismissed criticisms of its housing policy as “a disinformation campaign”. “Mayor Nir Barkat continues to promote investments in infrastructure, construction and education in East Jerusalem, while at the same time upholding the law throughout West and East Jerusalem equally without bias,” the mayor’s office said after Clinton’s visit.

However, the EU says the fourth Geneva convention prevents an occupying power extending its jurisdiction to occupied territory. Israel occupied the east of the city in the 1967 six day war and later annexed it. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

The EU says settlement are being built in the east of the city at a “rapid pace”. Since the Annapolis peace talks began in late 2007, nearly 5,500 new settlement housing units have been submitted for public review, with 3,000 so far approved, the report says. There are now about 470,000 settlers in the occupied territories, including 190,000 in East Jerusalem.

The EU is particularly concerned about settlements inside the Old City, where there were plans to build a Jewish settlement of 35 housing units in the Muslim quarter, as well as expansion plans for Silwan, just outside the Old City walls.

The goal, it says, is to “create territorial contiguity” between East Jerusalem settlements and the Old City and to “sever” East Jerusalem and its settlement blocks from the West Bank.

There are plans for 3,500 housing units, an industrial park, two police stations and other infrastructure in a controversial area known as E1, between East Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, home to 31,000 settlers. Israeli measures in E1 were “one of the most significant challenges to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process”, the report says.

Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said conditions for Palestinians living in East Jerusalem were better than in the West Bank. “East Jerusalem residents are under Israeli law and they were offered full Israeli citizenship after that law was passed in 1967,” he said. “We are committed to the continued development of the city for the benefit of all its population.”

Obama urged to halt Israel demolitions

February 25, 2009

From correspondents in Ramallah

Herald Sun, February 24, 2009 04:42am

THE Palestinian Authority has urged the US president to press Israel to scrap a plan to raze almost 90 homes in annexed Arab east Jerusalem.

“We call on President Barack Obama to intervene personally to have this project stopped,” Yasser Abed Rabbo, one of the main aides of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, said overnight.

The Palestinian owners of 88 houses in the Silwan neighbourhood have received eviction notices saying the structures will be destroyed because they were built or expanded without the necessary permits. The move would affect about 1500 people.

“It is a massacre that Israel will commit in this Holy City,” Abed Rabbo said, calling for “urgent Arab and international action to halt this dangerous project”.

He said some of the houses affected by the orders had been built before Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War.

He called for a day-long strike in east Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied West Bank to protest against the plan.

The Gulf Cooperation Council, which groups the six Gulf Arab states, backed the call for US intervention to stop what it called these “racist acts that defy human rights and international law”.

“This is a dangerous step taken within the Zionist entity’s strategy to change the demographic reality in Jerusalem, signalling the occupier’s attempts to turn the city Jewish,” the grouping’s secretary-general Abdulrahman al-Attiya said according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

Silwan, which abuts the Old City of Jerusalem, is home to 10,000 Palestinians.

Sixty Jewish families also live in the neighbourhood around the City of David archaeological park which Israeli authorities say was the capital of the ancient Israelite kingdom.

Israel, which considers the whole of Jerusalem its “eternal, undivided” capital, rarely grants building permits to Arab residents of east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want to make the capital of their promised state.

According to the Israeli B’Tselem human rights organisation, Israeli authorities have demolished about 350 houses in east Jerusalem since 2004, saying they were built without permits.

Israel’s Settlement on Capitol Hill

November 29, 2008

Robert Weitzel | November 28, 2008

“With [traditional Israeli defense strategists] it’s all about tanks and land and controlling territories . . . and this hilltop and that hilltop. All these things are worthless.” -Incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert-

Soon after the sand settled following the Six Day War in 1967, Jewish settlements began dotting the hills in the occupied territories. These settlements are typically located on the high ground to better control the surrounding landscape. Today there are 127 Jewish settlements with a population exceeding 468,000 in the West Bank, the Golan Heights and in the suburbs of East Jerusalem—the last of nearly 8,000 settlers were removed from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

According to a recent Amnesty International report, “In the first six months of 2008 Israel has expanded settlements in the West Bank/East Jerusalem at a faster rate than in the previous seven years.”

Unbeknownst to most Americans, Israel’s westernmost settlement is not located in Palestine-Israel, but is 6000 miles away on the high ground overlooking Foggy Bottom in Washington D.C.

This Capital Hill settlement of pro-Israel lobbies and think tanks strategically controls the high ground overlooking the United States’ Middle East policy landscape by having made kibbutzniks of most members of the executive and legislative branches of the government—including President-elect Obama, Vice President-elect Biden (a wannabe Zionist), and future Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel (a born Zionist).

While Israel’s hilltop settlements in the occupied territories—violating over 30 UN Security Council resolutions since 1968—are “facts on the ground” that make the two state peace solution unlikely, their hilltop settlement in the center of the world’s only superpower makes it equally unlikely that Israel’s right-wing government will feel compelled to end their “self defensive” brutalization of the Palestinian people, which has been condemned by the international community (UN, EU) as crimes against humanity.

John Holmes, UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, said that Israel’s blockade of vital supplies to the Gaza Strip in retaliation for rocket attacks “amounts to collective punishment and is contrary to international humanitarian law.”

Collective punishment is forbidden by Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states, “No protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed.” A “protected person” is someone who is under the control of an “Occupying Power of which they are not nationals.” Only the most ideologically blinkered individual would fail to recognize the Gaza Strip as occupied territory.

Israel’s current blockade of Gaza, which began on November 4, is resulting in what the UN Relief and Works Agency is calling a humanitarian catastrophe. Before the blockade, 1000 truckloads of food, fuel and essential supplies per day were necessary to sustain the 1.5 million Palestinians imprisoned behind the concrete and barbed wire of the 25-mile long border. Eighty percent of Gazans live on two dollars a day and depend on international aid to survive. Since the border crossings were sealed, less than 100 truckloads have been permitted through.

The imprisoned Palestinians—50 percent of whom are younger than 15—are slowly starving. They lack the fuel to generate electricity for lighting, water purification, and sewage treatment. The erratic, intermittent electrical power puts the lives of patients in intensive care wards and those who are connected to live-sustaining equipment in grave peril. The lack of basic medicines such as antibiotics and insulin pose an equally fatal threat.

Twenty human rights organizations and all Israeli and international journalists have been barred from entering the Gaza Strip since the blockade began. A letter of protest signed by most major news organizations was sent to Prime Minister Olmert. Israeli Defense Ministry spokesman Shlomo Dror responded to the letter by saying that Israel was afraid journalists would inflate the Palestinians’ suffering. No one is allow to speak out on behalf of this beleaguered population.

President-elect Obama has been speaking out “swiftly and boldly” about the economic catastrophe threatening our 401Ks, but his silence regarding the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe threatening the lives of Palestinians is both deafening and telling of the price he’s willing to pay to maintain his status as kibbutznik-in-good-standing in Israel’s westernmost hilltop settlement.

Obama’s unconditional support for Israel’s policy of “self defense,” preemptive attacks, and repressive occupations is not one iota different from that of George W. Bush, an internationally recognized war criminal. This is not an encouraging beginning for a man whose battle cry was “change we can believe in.”

By any rational, humanitarian standard, Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians amounts to collective punishment and crimes against humanity. Perpetrators of such crimes, whether they are individuals or governments or willing allies, are criminals who should one day sit in the dock of the International Court of Justice in The Hague—just as defendants sat in a Nuremberg court 60 years ago—and be held accountable for their crimes.

Until Israel’s hilltop settlement in our nation’s capital is dismantled, allowing for the possibility of a just and lasting peace in Palestine-Israel, its influence on both branches of our government and its insidious affect on US Middle East policy will continue to make willing—or unwitting—kibbutzniks of all Americans. We will be held as complicit, and as culpable, as the citizens of the country whose leaders sat in the dock at Nuremberg.

The world will ask, “Why didn’t you do something to stop it?” The majority of us will reply, “We didn’t know!”

Robert Weitzel is a contributing editor to Media With a Conscience ( His essays regularly appear in The Capital Times in Madison, WI. He can be contacted at:

Israel Moves to Judaise East Jerusalem

September 10, 2008

By Mel Frykberg | Inter-Press Service, Sep 9, 2008

EAST JERUSALEM, –  The Israeli government is attempting to Judaise Palestinian East Jerusalem, and maintain a Jewish majority against the demographic threat of a higher Palestinian birth rate.

To that end, the Israeli government is enforcing a number of policies aimed at establishing facts on the ground in order to limit the number of Palestinian residents in the city.

To make any future division of Jerusalem almost impossible, the Israeli authorities are applying a combination of strategies including limiting family reunification permits, redrawing Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries, enlarging Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and establishing new illegal ones.

Under international law the Green Line divides Jewish West Jerusalem from Palestinian East Jerusalem. However, Israel has illegally occupied East Jerusalem since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Last month Israel published tenders for the construction of 1,761 illegal housing units for Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem alone, according to the Israeli rights group, Peace Now.

Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem says there are nearly 192,000 Israeli settlers residing illegally in 12 settlements in East Jerusalem.

Jerusalem municipality’s redrawing of the city’s municipal boundaries has incorporated the illegal settlements, while the building of the separation barrier, which separates Israel proper from the West Bank, has increased the number of Palestinians on the ‘wrong side’ of the barrier or wall, thereby further limiting a Palestinian presence.

According to conservative UN figures, about 25 percent of the 253,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have been cut off from the city by the barrier.

“The Israelis are implementing the final plan to Judaise Jerusalem completely,” Suhail Khalilieh, head of the Applied Research Institute in Jerusalem (ARIJ) settlement unit told IPS.

“The plan began when Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967. The last stage of the plan involves the completion of the barrier with the specific aim of manipulating the demographics and limiting the balance of the Palestinian population to a mere 15-20 percent, with the remainder being Jewish,” said Khalilieh.

East Jerusalem is of particular importance to Palestinians because under international law it belongs to them and is designated the capital of a future Palestinian state. They also have significant cultural, religious, educational and business ties to the city.

Al-Aqsa Mosque, the second holiest Islamic site, as well as sites where Christ is said to have been buried and crucified are in East Jerusalem. Many Palestinians are Christian, even though they are a minority.

The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) is trying to address the future status of East Jerusalem, which it considers a red line issue, within the framework of final negotiations on a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

But the PNA faces a task of Sisyphean proportions as Israel’s encroachment of East Jerusalem has steadily increased over the decades since 1967, when a third of the area was expropriated from individual Palestinian landowners during the annexation and used exclusively to build settlements.

The expropriation, in defiance of the Fourth Geneva Convention, was justified on the basis of classifying Palestinian-owned land as vacant or unused, as many Palestinians fled the war temporarily to neighbouring countries.

“Palestinians residing outside of Jerusalem for seven or more years lose their Jerusalem residency status unless they can prove Jerusalem residency within the municipal boundaries and the importance of the city in their daily life, which is imperative in order to keep their identity cards,” says B’Tselem.

This does not apply to Israelis in West Jerusalem.

According to UN figures, in 2006 at least 1,360 Palestinians had their ID cards revoked. This was five times more than in 2005, and more than in any previous year since Israel began occupying East Jerusalem.

In 2003, the Citizenship and Entry into Israel law was enacted, which denies spouses from the occupied Palestinian territories, who are married to Israeli citizens or permanent residents (Jerusalem ID card holders), the right to acquire citizenship or residency status, and thus the opportunity to live with their partners in Israel and Jerusalem.

As a result, thousands of married couples are forced to live apart from one another.

In Israel, foreign spouses who are Jewish are automatically granted citizenship under Israel’s Law of Return.

Furthermore, since 1982 the Israeli Interior Ministry has not permitted the registration of Palestinian children as Jerusalem residents if the child’s father does not hold a Jerusalem ID card, even if the mother is a Jerusalem ID cardholder.

Jerusalem’s urban planning too, has been fine-tuned to increase the Jewish population with tax incentives and massive investment in Jewish neighbourhoods, while severely restricting construction in Palestinian neighbourhoods to seven percent of East Jerusalem.

“However, even before Palestinians are permitted to build they need to obtain the requisite building permits which are both expensive and extremely difficult to obtain,” said Khalilieh.

Even if Palestinians are fortunate enough to get the permits, they are still restricted to building on only 25 percent of their land.

Again, these restrictions do not apply to Jewish residents of West Jerusalem.

Jeff Halper from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) says there is currently a housing shortage of 25,000 units in East Jerusalem, and fewer homes means higher prices.

“Despite the housing shortage, Israel’s municipality grants Palestinians only around 150 to 350 work permits a year, yet demolishes 150 or more existing homes at the same time,” said Halper.

Houses built without permits are demolished by the municipality.

B’Tselem states that both Israelis and Palestinians build illegally, but that the response of the authorities is not equal. Palestinians account for about 20 percent of illegal construction, yet more than 75 percent of the demolitions are carried out on Palestinian homes.

“While demolitions carried out in Jewish neighbourhoods target either commercial buildings or additions to a house, in Palestinian neighbourhoods such demolitions leave entire Palestinian families homeless,” added the human rights group.

ICAHD further asserts that Palestinians face discrimination in regard to budgeting and taxation as well as essential needs like water, sewage, roads, parks, lighting, post offices, schools and other services.

The PNA continues to negotiate with the Israelis despite the continued settlement building and land expropriation.

“The Palestinians are in an extremely weak position. If they stopped negotiations on this basis, Israel would put the blame on failed talks squarely on their shoulders, with the support of the U.S., and continue with establishing facts on the ground irrespectively,” Khalilieh told IPS. (END/2008)

Israel ‘doubling’ settlement growth

August 27, 2008

Al Jazeera, August 26, 2008

Rice maintains that she aims for the two sides to reach a peace deal by January [AFP]

Israel has nearly doubled settlement construction activity in the occupied West Bank since 2007, a report by the rights group Peace Now says.

The report on settlement expansion coincided with the 18th visit by Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, to the Middle East, on Tuesday.

Rice urged Israel to stop expanding settlements, deemed illegal under international law, arguing that they were not helpful to the peace process.

“The settlement activity is not conducive to creating an environment for negotiations,” Rice said at a news conference with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Earlier in Jerusalem, after talks with Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, Rice referred to settlements, saying “anything that undermines confidence between the parties ought to be avoided”.

A US-backed “road map” for peace calls on Israel to halt all settlement activity in the West Bank and for Palestinians to rein in armed groups.

Settlement ‘noise’

The report by Peace Now, a non-governmental organisation, said that at least 2,600 new homes for Israelis are currently under construction in the West Bank, an increase of 80 per cent over last year.

In occupied East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want as the capital of their future state, the number of new government bids for construction has increased from 46 in 2007 to 1,761 so far this year.

Palestinians say the construction of Israeli homes undermines final status talks as it runs counter to earlier agreements.

But Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, said the construction will not affect talks.

“The peace process is not, and should not be, affected by any kind of settlement activities,” Livni said.

Livni urged the Palestinians not to use settlement building “as an excuse” to avoid negotiations, but added she understood “their frustration” at times.

Peace process

Nour Odeh, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Ramallah, said the issue of settlement building played into larger concerns.

“The issue of settlement building is not just that they exist on occupied land in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, it’s about control over water and the territorial contiguity of any possible future [Palestinian] state,” she said.

“It’s difficult for Palestinians to have any confidence in the committment to reach a solution when settlement activity has almost doubled – and by the Palestinain count more than doubled.”

Rice said she still aims to reach a peace accord by January, when George Bush, the US president, leaves office, but she has played down chances of striking any partial accord in time for the September UN General Assembly.

Egypt talks

Separately, Ehud Barak, Israel’s defence minister, travelled to Egypt on Tuesday where he met Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, to discuss the ceasefire in Gaza that has been in effect since mid-June.

Barak hailed Egyptian efforts along the porous border which “have visibly been effective”, a statement from the Israeli defence ministry said.

But Barak also said that “more effort should be put in order to further reduce” weapons smuggling into Gaza.

The two leaders also discussed ways to renew talks on the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas fighters near Gaza in June 2006.

On Monday, Barak ordered the closure of all border crossings into Gaza after two rockets were fired from the strip.

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