G-8 tells Israel to halt settlements in Gaza

By Nicole Winfield
Associated Press / June 27, 2009
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TRIESTE, Italy - A broad international coalition urged Israel yesterday to freeze all settlement activity in the West Bank and lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip, backing President Obama’s Mideast policy.

The Quartet of Mideast negotiators and foreign ministers of the Group of Eight industrialized nations took advantage of what the UN chief said was a “historic’’ opportunity with the new Obama administration in issuing nearly identical calls for the resumption of direct peace talks, an end to violence, and economic reconstruction for war-battered Gaza.

“We are now trying very hard to seize the very favorably created political atmosphere,’’ of Obama’s election to push the peace process forward, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told a news conference.

Israel has rejected demands that it halt all settlement building, saying it must accommodate “natural growth’’ in the Israeli enclaves.

However both the G-8 and the Quartet - the United States, Russia, European Union, and United Nations - urged Israel to freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth, with the quartet also urging it to dismantle settlement outposts erected since March 2001.

It was the first Quartet meeting since Obama came to office, held on the sidelines of a meeting of the G-8 foreign ministers in this picturesque Adriatic port on Italy’s northeastern coast.

At the G-8 meeting, ministers also said they deplored the postelection violence in Iran and urged the Tehran authorities to ensure the will of the Iranian people is reflected in the electoral outcome.

The G-8 and Quartet called for an immediate and “sustained reopening’’ of Gaza’s crossing points to ensure a regular flow of people, as well as humanitarian and commercial goods into the isolated territory.

While recognizing Israel’s “legitimate security concerns,’’ the Quartet said enabling movement of and access for Palestinians was “critical.’’

Gaza’s borders were closed by Israel and Egypt after the takeover two years ago of the territory by Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by the West.

Hamas has repeatedly fired rockets from Gaza on Israeli border towns, setting off a three-week war by Israel on Gaza’s Hamas leaders in the winter.

Israel has allowed some humanitarian aid and food supplies into Gaza, but the reconstruction of Gaza’s war damage, including thousands of damaged or destroyed homes, is on hold because Israel will not allow in cement or other building materials.

The call of both the Quartet and the G-8 for a settlement freeze signaled broad international support for Obama’s Mideast policy.

Correction: Because of an editing error, a headline on Saturday’s Nation/World pages incorrectly described the action taken by the Quartet of Mideast negotiators and foreign ministers of the Group of Eight. The panel urged Israel to freeze all settlement activity in the West Bank.