The United States said on Monday it was disappointed by Israel's decision to allow its partial moratorium on construction West Bank settlements to expire. Concurrently, US senators urged US President Barack Obama to pressure the Palestinians not to quit the talks.
US State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters US Middle East envoy former US Senator George Mitchell was in touch with Israeli and Palestinian officials and a lower-level US team would visit the region this week for follow-up talks.
"We recognize that given the decision yesterday we've still got a dilemma that we have to resolve and there are no direct negotiations scheduled at this point but we will be in touch with the parties to see how we move ahead," Crowley said.
"We will have further conversations with key countries in the coming days and we hope that the Arab League meeting will continue to affirm its support for the process," he said.
Later, British Foreign Minister William Hague said he was "very disappointed" with the end of the freeze. He added that he was worried that Israel's decision may undermine the current round of peace talks, urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to "show leadership" and resolve the issue.
However, voices siding with Israel are being heard in the US. Eighty-seven US senators have sent a letter to US President Barack Obama calling him to pressure Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to avoid toppling negotiations following Israel's renewal of West Bank settlement construction.
The senators wrote to Obama that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not quit th talks following the brutal murder of four innocent civilians at the hands of Hamas at the start of negotiations.
UN urges Israel to extend freeze
Meanwhile, a US official said envoy Mitchell will return to the region this week to continue urgent efforts to break the deadlock in negotiations over Israeli settlements.
The official said Mitchell will leave on Tuesday for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators after Israel decided not to extend a freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the negotiations but the State Department was expected to formally announce the trip later Monday.
Elsewhere, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also expressed his displeasure with Israel's decision.
"Jewish settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, is illegal under international law," Ban said in a statement, calling upon Israel to maintain the settlement freeze.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Monday that he hoped the UN peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians are continuing despite the end of moratorium on the settlement.
His Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu echoes the sentiment, saying the in order for the peace talks to be successful, both parties needed to show good intentions, which settlement activities were not part of. "We urge Israel to stop settlement activities and extend the moratorium," Davutoglu said.
Reuters, AP, AFP, and Yitzhak Benhorin contributed to the story
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