Israel PM denies offer made to freeze settlements

Israel and the Palestinians are due to relaunch direct talks on Thursday.

Jerusalem: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he never told the US administration a settlement freeze would be renewed after Middle East peace talks restart this week, an official said on Monday.

"We have not presented any proposal to the Americans on an extension of the freeze ... the government has not taken any decision on the issue," the official quoted the Premier as saying at a meeting of his Likud party.

Under US’ pressure, the Israeli government in November imposed a partial, 10-month moratorium on new construction in West Bank settlements, with the exception of east Jerusalem.

Palestinians insist the measure must be extended beyond its term on September 26, while the government faces strong pressure from the right to allow construction to resume.

"We have said the future of settlements will be taken up with other questions in discussions on a final accord," Netanyahu said, according to the official who asked not to be named.

Israel and the Palestinians are due to relaunch direct negotiations in Washington on Thursday, after a 20-month hiatus.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday warned that renewed settlement activity would torpedo the talks.

If the moratorium is not renewed, construction of several thousand homes could immediately start in 57 settlements, Army radio said.

Bureau Report