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Jordan Pressures Israel to Halt New Settlements

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The King of Jordan has pressed Israel's prime minister to stop all settlement activity in the West Bank, warning that it could endanger the region. The two men met in Jordan in a bid to push the Israeli-Palestinian peace process forward. VOA Middle East Correspondent Challiss McDonough has more from our bureau in Cairo.

In an unannounced meeting with the Israeli prime minister, Jordan's King Abdullah put new pressure on Israel to stop building settlements in the West Bank.

The Jordanian king met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the Red Sea port of Aqaba, a day after the monarch met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

A statement from the royal palace said the king urged Israel to avoid "unilateral actions" that could block progress toward peace. King Abdullah warned Mr. Olmert that a stalled peace process "threatens the region's future, and its security and stability."

A spokesman for Mr. Olmert said the Israeli leader renewed Israel's commitment not to build new settlements or appropriate new land in the parts of the West Bank outside East Jerusalem.

He said Israel is willing to move forward in negotiations with the Palestinians toward a comprehensive solution.

The meetings in Jordan are part of a push to keep the Israeli-Palestinian peace process on track after it was re-launched at a summit in Maryland in November.

The declaration signed in Annapolis said settlement building in the West Bank should stop.

Hassan Abu Taleb is a political analyst from the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.

He said settlement activity has continued despite the Annapolis declaration, and he said this undermines efforts to build confidence among Arabs and Palestinians about Israel's commitment to the peace process.

Earlier this week Prime Minister Olmert ordered his Cabinet ministers not to authorize any West Bank construction without his approval. The prime minister has been embarrassed by several recent Housing Ministry announcements on settlements that have brought charges from the Palestinians that Israel is violating the "Roadmap" peace plan.

That peace plan is expected to be discussed by a number of regional leaders in the days ahead of next week's Middle East visit by President Bush.

King Abdullah said he hopes the U.S. leader's trip will encourage the Palestinians and Israelis to implement the commitments they made at Annapolis.

The Israeli leader's spokesman said Mr. Olmert also updated King Abdullah on the situation in the Gaza Strip, where a new series of Israeli airstrikes on Thursday killed at least eight people.

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