US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticised Israel's plans to demolish more than 80 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem as "unhelpful" and a violation of its international obligations.
In the first public rebuke of a specific Israeli policy since the new US administration took office, Mrs Clinton indicated the plan contravened the provisions in the five-year-old internationally agreed "road-map" that calls for a halt to all settlement activity.
Mrs Clinton said after meeting the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbbas: "Clearly this kind of activity is unhelpful and not in keeping with the obligations entered into under the 'road-map'... It is an issue that we intend to raise with the government of Israel and the government at the municipal level in Jerusalem."
While the US has long officially opposed moves by Israel in East Jerusalem that would prejudice any "final status" settlement of the conflict, Mrs Clinton's remarks appeared to focus especially on demolition plans affecting up to 1,000 people living in the neighbourhood of Silwan, one of the Palestinian areas closest to the Old City.
Israel regards itself as having annexed East Jerusalem after the Six-Day War but that is not accepted by the international community – including the US. The authorities say many of the multiple-occupied Palestinian homes affected were built without permits, but residents say it is all but impossible for them to secure the necessary paperwork from the authorities.
The demolition orders have been issued on the houses to make way for a wide-ranging development plan featuring a network of archaeological sites and national parks, which the municipality and the government have devised in co-operation with settler organisations.
Mrs Clinton's remarks in Ramallah came shortly after further demolition orders were issued on buildings containing 55 apartment units elsewhere in the city, in the Palestinian refugee neighbourhood of Shufat. Stephen Miller, an aide to Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem, said the new orders were in respect of buildings which were empty and had been built illegally.
Before the Clinton meeting, the senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Mr Abbas was seeking a tougher US stance towards Israel and would be raising specific settlement construction projects with the Secretary of State. He added: "The main point is that the Israeli government needs to accept the two-state solution and... that it stop settlement expansion."
Mrs Clinton also went out of her way to declare support for President Abbas – whose position been weakened by the continued control of Gaza by Hamas and the failure so far of peace initiatives to bear fruit – and his Prime Minister Salam Fayad's plan for the reconstruction of Gaza. International donors pledged up to $5.5m for the reconstruction of Gaza in Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday. In terms which reinforced her warning that Hamas would not secure recognition unless it renounced violence and recognised Israel she declared: "The Palestinian Authority is the only legitimate government of the Palestinian people."
For his part, Mr Abbas specifically criticised Iran by implication for its backing of Hamas. He accused Tehran of trying to deepen the Palestinian split and said: "Iran needs to take care of its own issues and stay away from intervening in Palestinian affairs."
Meanwhile, two Islamic Jihad militants were wounded in an Israeli missile attack in northern Gaza last night. Sporadic rocket attacks on Israel and Israeli strikes continue despite attempts by Egypt to broker a long-term ceasefire.Reuse content