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World Powers Call On Israel To Freeze West Bank Settlements

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (epa) The Quartet of Middle East peace mediators has called on Israel to freeze the construction of further settlements in the West Bank.

The appeal came during a meeting in London of the Quartet, which is made up of the United Nations, the United States, Russia, and the European Union.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking at a joint news conference with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, made the appeal this morning.

"The Quartet expressed its deep concern at continuing settlement activity and called on Israel to freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth, and to dismantle outposts erected since March 2001," Ban said.

At the same time, Ban said the Quartet expected the Palestinian side to honor its promises and "urged Israel and the Palestinian Authority to increase cooperation in that respect and to facilitate the delivery of security assistance to the Palestinian Authority."

Appeal To Arabs

Ban also urged donor states -- especially Arab states -- to make good on their pledges of money to the Palestinian Authority.

U.S. Secretary of State Rice said improving the material conditions of ordinary Palestinians would help reinforce the authority of Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas, and contribute to achieving an eventual peace deal.

The issue of the Gaza Strip, however, remains unresolved. The tiny territory -- home to some 1.5 million Palestinians -- is under Hamas’s de facto control and Abbas’s authority does not extend there at present.

The Quartet, in a joint statement, voiced "deep concern" over humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip, which has been under an Israeli blockade since the Hamas movement took over power in June 2007. Israel says the blockade is aimed at stopping Hamas rocket attacks into Israel.

Later today in London, Rice will have three-way talks with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

She is also due to have separate talks on Iran's disputed nuclear program with her counterparts from Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China.