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Israeli FM Warns Palestinians Not to Declare Statehood

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (file photo)

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has warned Palestinian officials not to declare independence unilaterally.

In an interview with the Israeli Ynet news Web site published Tuesday, Lieberman said any unilateral decision by the Palestinians would release Israel from its previous commitments. He said it would allow Israel to annex parts of the West Bank and end a series of agreements that have benefited Palestinians for more than 16 years.

The United States has been trying to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Recently, it has been pressuring Israel to stop all construction of Jewish homes in East Jerusalem, as a confidence-building measure.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem during a 1967 war and considers it part of the Israeli capital. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

Also Tuesday, an Israeli court sentenced an Arab-Israeli man to five years in prison for spying.

Israeli prosecutors said 23-year-old Rawi Sultani confessed to passing information on one of Israel's top military leaders to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

Sultani went to the same health club as Israeli Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi. Israeli officials said Hezbollah wanted to use the information in order to plan an assassination.

In other news, an internal Israeli investigation has concluded that the deaths of four Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank could have been prevented. The report looked at two separate incidents near Nablus during a two-day span last month.

In the first incident March 20, Israeli forces shot and killed two Palestinians in the village of Iraq Burin. During the second incident, a day later, troops shot and killed two Palestinian youths, fearing the youths were about to attack them with a bottle and a syringe.

All the Palestinian victims were 20 years old or younger.

The Israeli report said the way Israeli commanders deployed their soldiers created unnecessary risks, and that the troops could have operated in a more professional manner.

Some critics have accused Israel of using live ammunition, instead of rubber bullets, during the first incident. But the report said it was not able to confirm what type of bullets were used.