Arab League: We'll endorse Abbas' position
Ahead of Arab foreign ministers' meeting in Cairo next week, Palestinian president says he hopes Israel will hold off settlement-building in West Bank as long as Mideast peace talks continue, fears Israeli and Palestinian leadership may miss a 'historic opportunity' for their peoples
Washington's special Mideast envoy, using a slim lifeline from the Palestinians, rushed to the region on Tuesday on an emergency mission to keep peace talks from collapsing just weeks after they began.
Israel's decision to resume new West Bank settlement construction after a 10-month moratorium expired on midnight Sunday has provoked Palestinian threats to walk out of the talks. It has also caused new friction between Israel and its powerful US patron, which said it was "disappointed" with Israel's refusal to relent.
On Monday night, Washington dispatched special envoy George Mitchell to the region to try to bridge gaps that Palestinian, Israel and American officials failed to close in a frenetic round of meetings in the US last week.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gave US mediation more time to work when he announced Monday he wouldn't decide whether to abandon the talks before consulting senior Arab officials in Cairo next week. An Arab League official has told The Associated Press that Arab foreign ministers were expected to endorse whatever position Abbas took.
Abbas said Tuesday he hoped Israel would hold off settlement-building in the West Bank as long as Mideast peace talks continue.
The Palestinian leader said on French radio a day after meeting French President Nicolas Sarkozy that he feared the Israeli and Palestinian leadership might miss a "historic opportunity" for their peoples.
Abbas told Europe-1 Tuesday that "if the colonization stops, we will continue the negotiations." He said the Palestinian leadership hoped Israel would halt settlement-building "as long as there are negotiations."
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley praised Abbas for not immediately walking out of the talks and chided Israel for resisting international pressure to halt new housing starts in the West Bank – territory that Palestinians claim as part of their future state.
"We are disappointed but we remain focused on our long-term objective and will be talking to the parties about the implications of the Israeli decision," Crowley said Monday, adding that Mitchell would "sort through with the parties where we go from here."
Immediately after the restrictions expired, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed to Abbas to keep negotiating. Netanyahu has indicated he would be prepared to limit new building, but has refused to agree to a complete halt.
Netanyahu, who agreed under duress to impose the moratorium in late November, has told the US that he cannot extend it because his partners in Israel's pro-settlement government oppose such a move.
In Gaza violence late Monday, three Palestinian gunmen were killed in a clash with Israeli soldiers, both sides said. The Israelis said their forces fired at militants near the border of central Gaza as they were about to launch rockets at Israel. A small, al-Qaeda-inspired group claimed responsibility on Tuesday.
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