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Settlement Construction Moratorium Not Discussed in Israeli Ministerial Meeting

A sign advertising a planned housing project stands in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ariel, 05 Oct 2010
A sign advertising a planned housing project stands in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ariel, 05 Oct 2010

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has wrapped up a forum of his top ministers with no discussion of a proposal to extend a moratorium on West Bank settlement construction.

A statement from Mr. Netanyahu's office said Tuesday's meeting focused on Israel's plans for dealing with Gaza-bound flotillas and a United Nations probe into an earlier incident in which a flotilla tried to break Israel's partial blockade of Gaza.

Earlier, Israeli news reports said Mr. Netanyahu and the ministers would discuss a plan to extend the settlement moratorium by 60 days. Such a plan could help Israel avoid a collapse of peace talks with the Palestinians that began last month.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party has urged him not to continue direct peace talks unless Israel reinstates the freeze on housing starts in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Israel enforced the freeze for a 10-month period that ended September 26, calling it a one-time gesture to encourage Palestinians to enter negotiations. Palestinians object to Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas the Palestinians want for a future state and capital.

U.S. President Barack Obama's administration has called on Israel to extend the freeze.

Mr. Abbas has said he will decide whether to quit the negotiations after consulting with Arab League foreign ministers in Libya on Friday. He discussed the peace process Tuesday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo.

Meanwhile, Mr. Netanyahu has strongly condemned Monday's pre-dawn attack on a West Bank mosque. Palestinians in the West Bank village of Beit Fajjar accused hardline Jewish settlers of torching the mosque and spraying it with insults in Hebrew.

In an unusual peace gesture, a group of rabbis brought new copies of the Quran to the mosque to replace those burned in the fire.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.