BEIRUT

Middle East

Merkel calls for 'restraint' from Israel on settlements

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas shake hands after a press conference on October 18, 2013 at the Chancellery in Berlin. AFP PHOTO / JOHN MACDOUGALL

BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Israel Friday to show "restraint" in the building of Jewish settlements, after talks with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"We call on Israel to show restraint in the matter of settlement building," Merkel told a joint press conference with Abbas in Berlin.

Construction starts in Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land rose by 70 percent year-on-year in the first half of 2013, anti-settlement group Peace Now said Thursday.

Settlement building in the territories occupied by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War is considered illegal under international law, and the issue remains one of the most divisive in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Terming them "illegal", Abbas said Israeli settlement construction in the occupied territories had "in fact, increased enormously".

"We ask the Israeli government to stop this activity," he told reporters through an interpreter.

Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP Thursday that the settlement building was "destroying the peace process", relaunched with US prodding in July.

Merkel reiterated Germany's support for the peace talks and a two-state solution, while Abbas thanked Germany for its economic support and its role in the peace process.

"We are serious in our efforts to conduct the negotiations," he said, adding an appeal directed at the Israeli government: "We should seize this historic chance."

Merkel also stressed that Germany's foreign policy would continue in the same vein as previously despite the likely formation of a left-right grand coalition, currently under negotiation between her conservatives and the Social Democrats after September 22 elections.

 

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