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Ban Ki-Moon: Israel Must Stop Building On Occupied Land

Ban Kimoon Israel

MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH   03/20/10 04:17 PM ET   AP

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Visiting U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said Saturday that Israeli settlement building anywhere on occupied land is illegal and must be stopped, while a Palestinian teenager was killed in clashes with Israeli troops elsewhere in the West Bank.

The death of 16-year-old Mohammed Qadus, who Palestinians say was shot in the chest by Israeli security forces, comes amid heightened tensions between Israelis and Palestinians after Israel announced plans last week for 1,600 new homes for Jews in disputed east Jerusalem.

The settlement announcement has sparked outrage and protests from Palestinians, as well as condemnation from Israel's closest ally – the United States – and the U.N. secretary general.

From a hilltop observation post on the outskirts of the Palestinian city of Ramallah, Ban got a closer look Saturday at some of the Israeli enclaves scattered across Palestinian-claimed territories.

The panorama included the sprawling West Bank settlement of Givat Zeev, home to 11,000 Israelis who live in rows of red-roofed houses, and Jewish neighborhoods in traditionally Arab east Jerusalem, the Israeli-annexed sector of the city that Palestinians claim as a future capital.

The brief geography lesson came a day after Ban, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other major Mideast mediators – known as the Quartet – met in Moscow to try to find a way to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The mediators urged Israel to halt all settlement construction. Israel has agreed to curb settlement construction in the West Bank, but not in east Jerusalem, claiming the entire city as Israel's eternal capital.

On Saturday, Ban rejected Israel's distinction between east Jerusalem and the West Bank, noting that both are occupied lands.

"The world has condemned Israel's settlement plans in east Jerusalem," Ban told a news conference after his brief tour. "Let us be clear. All settlement activity is illegal anywhere in occupied territory and must be stopped."

The U.N. chief also expressed concern about what he said was a worsening humanitarian situation in blockaded Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Speaking later Saturday in Jerusalem alongside Israeli President Shimon Peres, Ban repeated the Quartet's call for a resumption of talks and for the establishment of a Palestinian state within two years.

Earlier this month, Israelis and Palestinians agreed to indirect talks, with U.S. envoy George Mitchell to shuttle between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. However, the negotiations were put on hold after Israel announced its new settlement plans.

The announcement – which came during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden – prompted a major diplomatic row between Israel and the U.S., though Clinton suggested Friday that a way could be found to renew negotiations. Clinton has asked Netanyahu for specific gestures, including canceling the most recent housing plan, and is to hear from the Israeli leader in a meeting in Washington early next week.

Senior U.S. officials in Washington say Netanyahu apparently has put in writing the pledges he made to Clinton during their telephone conversation on Thursday.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to describe contents of a private diplomatic contact between Clinton and Netanyahu.

Clinton reportedly asked Israel to revoke its recent building decision, roll back on plans for new Jewish homes and make goodwill gestures such as releasing Palestinian prisoners and lifting some West Bank roadblocks.

Meanwhile, Mitchell is returning to the region over the weekend and is planning to brief Abbas on U.S. efforts. Abbas has said he will not negotiate with Israel directly unless it freezes all settlement construction, including in east Jerusalem.

Palestinians fear that expanding settlements will take up more and more of the land they want for their state.

Netanyahu has agreed to a 10-month curb in West Bank construction that ends in September, but the construction of some 3,000 homes in settlements, begun before Israel declared the partial freeze, is continuing.

Nearly half a million Israelis live on war-won land, including some 180,000 in east Jerusalem and nearly 300,000 in the West Bank.

Violent protests have erupted several times in the past week in east Jerusalem, where residents are angry over both the new Jewish housing plans and unsubstantiated rumors that Jewish extremists are plotting to take over an Old City shrine, holy to both Muslims and Jews.

The city was largely calm Saturday, although in a minor incident Palestinian youths lobbed some rocks at Israeli troops, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullet fire.

In the northern West Bank, a doctor at a Nablus hospital said Qadus died Saturday after being shot in the chest by Israeli security forces. Palestinians say a 17-year-old protester was also in serious condition after being shot in the head. The doctor spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Israel's military confirmed that it dispersed a group of masked, rock-throwing Palestinians near the town of Iraq Burin with tear gas and rubber bullets. It said the Palestinians were holding a violent, illegal riot and were approaching a nearby settlement in a threatening manner. The military insisted that its troops did not use live bullets and said it was investigating reports of the Palestinian death.

Clashes take place in the village on a near weekly basis over a water well that Palestinians claim Jewish settlers are trying to seize for their own use.

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Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

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