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Israeli Radio: Netanyahu Freezes New Settlement Construction

  • VOA News

Israeli settlers play next to Israeli border police in Tapuah junction, near the West Bank city of Nablus, April 30, 2013.

Israeli settlers play next to Israeli border police in Tapuah junction, near the West Bank city of Nablus, April 30, 2013.

Israel's Army Radio says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stopped approving new construction in West Bank settlements in what may be a bid to restart peace talks with the Palestinians.

There was no confirmation of the settlement freeze from the office of Netanyahu, who was in Shanghai on Tuesday as part of an official visit to China. The Army Radio report said the Israeli prime minister ordered the freeze in a meeting with his housing minister before departing on his trip.

Israel's Housing Minister Uri Ariel declined to confirm the report.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who was in China this week on a separate visit, has long refused to restart negotiations with Israel until it stops all settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Palestinians claim those areas for their proposed independent state.

If the settlement freeze is confirmed, it would coincide with a new effort by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process by holding regular meetings with the leaders of both sides.

The Israeli anti-settlement monitoring group Peace Now said the government has not issued new tenders for West Bank housing for several months. It said previously-approved construction projects have continued.

It is not clear if the apparent freeze also applies to Jewish districts of East Jerusalem, which Israel claims as part of its capital.

As Netanyahu prepared to fly to Beijing Wednesday for talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Palestinian President Abbas left the Chinese capital Tuesday, after meeting Xi the previous day.

The simultaneous visits to China by the Israeli and Palestinian leaders reflected Beijing's desire for a more prominent role in Mideast peace efforts.

China's official Xinhua news agency said Xi told Abbas that Israel and the Palestinians should "show mutual understanding and accommodation and meet each other half way."

It said the Chinese president believes negotiations should lead to an independent Palestinian state and full respect for what he called Israel's legitimate security concerns and right to exist.

Speaking Monday, Abbas reiterated that he is willing to meet Netanyahu provided the Israeli leader accepts a Palestinian state based on pre-war boundaries of 1967. Israel repeatedly has said it is ready to negotiate without such preconditions.

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