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France to Pursue Mideast Peace Conference


French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe speaks at the State Department in Washington, Monday, June 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe speaks at the State Department in Washington, Monday, June 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe says Paris will move ahead with efforts to organize a Mideast peace conference in coming weeks despite reservations expressed by the U.S. and Israel.

Juppe told reporters at the United Nations headquarters in New York Tuesday that France is still working on the initiative, saying he expects "positive developments" on the proposal in the next few weeks.

The top French envoy said Israel will give its response soon and that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has already "responded positively."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a cool response to the French plan Monday, saying any new gathering must be linked to a willingness by the parties to resume talks.

Juppe says the conference could be critical to forestalling a crisis at the U.N. Mr. Abbas has said he intends to seek recognition of Palestinian statehood at the U.N. General Assembly meeting in September, a move that both Israel and the U.S. say will only inflame tensions.

In a separate development, suspected Israeli settlers set fire to a tire inside a mosque in the West Bank and spray painted a message on the building's walls referring to a nearby settler outpost.

Tuesday's attack took place in the village of al-Mughayyir. Officials say some prayer rugs inside the mosque were damaged.

Vandals painted the words "price tag" and "Aley Ayin" on the walls. Aley Ayin is a small, unauthorized settler outpost that was evacuated by Israeli authorities last week.

The attack drew strong condemnation from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called it a "heinous act of provocation." The United States also condemned the attack. White House spokesman Tommy Vietor called for the perpetrators to be held accountable.

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians stalled last September, partly due to Palestinian objections to Israeli settlement construction on land they want as part of a future state.

Israeli government officials announced plans last month to build about 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem. The units will be on land that Israel annexed after the 1967 war.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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