- Title: MIDDLE EAST: Jewish settlers say construction moratorium in the West Bank is over
- Date: 27th September 2010
- Summary: VARIOUS OF PEOPLE HOLDING FLAGS, DANCING ISRAELI FLAG
- Embargoed: 12th October 2010 13:00
- Topics: International Relations,Industry
- Reuters ID: LVAEWVN1G2K6Z5BJET8XG0A650OR
- Story Text: Scores of Jewish settlers and their supporters gathered in the West Bank on Sunday (September 26) to announce the end of a 10 month settlement construction moratorium. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged them to act with restraint, a plea that appeared aimed at keeping Middle East peace talks alive.
Netanyahu has resisted U.S. pressure to extend the 10-month limited freeze on housing starts in settlements in the occupied West Bank, despite Palestinian threats to leave the negotiations launched on Sept. 2 in Washington.
But he has said he could limit the scope of renewed construction, a message he seemed to underscore in an official statement issued only hours before settlers were due to hold a cornerstone-laying ceremony to mark the end of the moratorium.
During the cornerstone-laying ceremony, which was held at the Jewish settlement of Revava, the head of Shomron local council turned to U.S President Barack Obama and said that the land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people.
"From this stage I turn to Hussein Obama: The land of Israel belongs to the Israeli people, the Jewish people, by the strongest taboo in the world - the Bible," said Gershon Mesika.
In the nearby settlement of Revava, scores of people gathered for a countdown marking the end of the moratorium.
The moratorium officially expires at midnight (2200 GMT), and the United States held extensive discussions with Israeli and Palestinian officials over the weekend to try to prevent the collapse of the negotiations.
In a sign that a way could be found out of the crisis, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said there was more than an even chance the peace process would continue. Washington has said it hopes all major issues could be resolved within a year.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whom Netanyahu has publicly urged to remain in the negotiations, also appeared to indicate the talks would not be suspended immediately upon the moratorium's expiration.
U.S. President Barack Obama has urged Israel to continue the freeze, but Netanyahu, whose coalition is packed with pro-settler parties, could face the collapse of his government if he complies.
In Jerusalem, peace activists held a protest in front of Netanyhu's residence, calling for the extension of the construction freeze.
"I came because I see it as a last minute warning to the Prime Minister not to stop the freezing, not to stop the freezing of the settlements. Because he is risking the peace process, the peace talks with the Palestinians," said Ruth Tirosh, one of the demonstrators.
More than 430,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements established across the West Bank and East Jerusalem on land that Israel captured from Jordan in a 1967 Middle East war.
The World Court deems settlements as illegal, although Israel disputes this.
Palestinians say the settlements will make it impossible for them to create a viable state and the issue is one of the core problems standing in the way of any peace deal.
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