Israeli plans for settlements must stop, UN chief says

Palestinian teen killed in clash in West Bank

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon was escorted by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to an observation point yesterday during a tour of Ramallah. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon was escorted by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to an observation point yesterday during a tour of Ramallah. (Mohamad Torokman/Associated Press/Pool)
By Mohammed Daraghmeh
Associated Press / March 21, 2010

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RAMALLAH, West Bank — UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon said during a visit yesterday 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 for 1,600 new homes for Jews in disputed East Jerusalem.

Palestinians said an unidentified 17-year-old protester was in serious condition after being shot in the head.

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 said its troops did not use live bullets and said it was investigating reports of the Palestinian death.

The settlement announcement has sparked outrage and protests from Palestinians, as well as condemnation from Israel’s closest ally — the United States — and the UN chief.

From a hilltop observation post on the outskirts of the Palestinian city of Ramallah, Ban got a closer look yesterday 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, US 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.

Yesterday, 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.’’

Ban also expressed concern about what he said was a worsening humanitarian situation in blockaded Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Speaking later yesterday in Jerusalem alongside President Shimon Peres of Israel, 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 US envoy George Mitchell to shuttle between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. 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 United States, 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 this week.

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

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