Egypt condemns Israeli plan to expand settlements

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 28, 2011 11:06 AM
Egypt condemns Israeli plan to expand settlements

By Dina Zayed

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt on Wednesday condemned an Israeli decision to construct 1,100 Jewish settlers homes in East Jerusalem and called the move "provocative."

Egypt, which has a peace treaty with Israel, has always condemned Israeli settlements but relations have grown more tense since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, a strategic ally of Israel and its main backer the United States.

Ties were further strained after Egyptian border guards were killed when Israeli troops pursued what is said were cross-border raiders in August.

Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr said of the new settlement activity, "This step reflects an Israeli choice to continue in its provocative policies and to challenge everyone in the international community that sees settlement construction as illegitimate."

Amr said in a statement that the move was complicating efforts to "regain credibility for a political compromise."

Britain and the European Union also called on Israel to reverse the decision. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said new settlement building would be "counter-productive" to the efforts to revive peace talks.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has applied for U.N. Security Council recognition of Palestine as a state, a move the U.S. says it will boycott, says he will not accept U.S. and Israeli calls for negotiations unless Israel stops building new settlements on occupied land.

CLEAR DEMAND

The Quartet of international mediators -- the United States, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations -- called for talks to begin within a month and urged both sides not to take unilateral actions that could block peacemaking.

But Amr criticized the Quartet for not making a clear demand for Israel to end settlement expansion, saying the statement gave the Jewish state the space to approve the expansion.

"Egypt is concerned about the pace of settlement construction ... particularly in the past two months, where more than 6,000 new settlements were approved," Amr said, describing the approvals as "irresponsible."

"The Israelis are completely responsible for what could be caused by these provocative policies in the midst of exceptional circumstances the region is going through," he said.

After the border guards were killed in August, Egypt threatened to withdraw its ambassador from Tel Aviv but did not do so.

Many Egyptians were angry with Cairo's failure to take decisive action, and protesters marched on the Israeli embassy in the Egyptian capital. Some stormed it and Israel was forced to fly its ambassador home.

Israel and Egypt fought four major wars in which tens of thousands lost their lives before the Camp David peace treaty was signed, a pact both states say they are committed to.

(Additional reporting by Ayman Samir; Editing by Louise Ireland)