Israel announces building plan, rejects preconditions

Israeli PM approves a plan to build 23 portable structures in the West Bank.

Jerusalem: The Israeli government approved on Sunday a new building plan in the West Bank despite the 10-month settlement freeze and warned against any international conditions to the start of direct dialogue with the Palestinian government, Israeli media reported on Sunday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved on Sunday a plan to build 23 portable structures in different settlements in the West Bank in order to allow 600 scholars to continue their studies in the coming year.

The decision was taken together with Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak and other representatives of his government after the Israeli Ministry of Justice banned the plan from being adopted.

Netanyahu agreed last November a settlement construction freeze that is to be officially lifted only at the end of next month.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said he would not agree to direct peace talks with Israel without a complete halt to settlement building, an agreement on final borders and a timetable for a deal.

Abbas is believed to be under heavy pressure to enter direct negotiations with Israel, after months of US-brokered proximity talks between the sides.

According to Palestinian officials, the Palestinian President is to announce its position regarding the start of direct negotiations in the coming hours.

Eleven militant Palestinian groups based in Syria on Sunday warned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas against a "concession and compromise" policy ahead of a possible round of direct talks with Israel.

The Hamas movement ruling the Gaza Strip as well as the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine also signed the message directed to the Palestinian government.

The international Mideast quartet - composed of the EU, US, Russia and the UN - is scheduled to set the frame of reference for the dialogue. This would be the first opportunity for both sides to start negotiations face-to-face since December 2008.

A seven-minister forum of the Israeli government met late Sunday in Jerusalem and warned that they would reject any preconditions set by the Quartet to step forward to a new chapter in the negotiations.

It would be "unacceptable" to set conditions to the talks, an official said to the Israeli media on Sunday after the three-hour meeting headed by Benjamin Netanyahu.

US sources had said previously that the international Quartet is likely to call for the recognition of a Palestinian State inside the 1967 borders and would boost its creation in a period of two years.


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