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Middle East

Israel stays settlement course despite allies' appeals

Israel has stuck to its plans to widen its settlement activities in the aftermath of the UN's partial recognition of a Palestinian state. Back in New York, the General Assembly urged Israel to let in nuclear inspectors.

Six European governments and Australia summoned their Israeli envoys on Monday and Tuesday to express disappointment with plans to build settlements in an area of East Jerusalem, called E1, which could effectively divide the West Bank in two.

"Are new homes in our capital Jerusalem really more dangerous to the peace process than the Palestinian Authority's refusal to talk peace and to recognize Israel?" Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's spokesman, Ofir Gendelman, asked on the Twitter site.

The United States, Israel's staunchest ally, also opposed the move, with White House spokesman Jay Carney saying that Washington had made its position clear.

"We urge Israeli leaders to reconsider these unilateral decisions and exercise restraint, as these actions are counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations to achieve a two-state solution," Carney told reporters.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that the proposal "would represent an almost fatal blow to remaining chances of securing a two-state solution."

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert wrote on the social media website Twitter Monday that the proposed settlement projects "send a negative signal at a time when above all direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians are necessary," also writing that the government "asks that Israel refrain from the proposed construction of housing units."

Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet Netanyahu in Berlin on Wednesday.

UN nuclear resolution

The UN General Assembly on Monday voted overwhelmingly to urge Israel to open its nuclear facilities for inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The motion also asked the country to join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty "without further delay."

The motion passed by 174 votes to six - Israel, the US, Canada, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau opposed - and six other nations abstained. General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding but are considered a good indicator of international opinion.

Israel is widely believed to possess the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, but neither confirms nor denies this. Germany is one of the countries to have recently provided Israel with nuclear-capable submarines.

Prior to the vote, the US announced the cancellation of a planned conference in Helsinki, Finland, designed to seek a Middle East free of nuclear weapons. The government in Washington said that tensions in the region, most notably November's Gaza Strip offensive, and suspicions over Iran's alleged nuclear ambitions were the reason for the cancellation.

msh/mkg (AFP, AP, dapd, Reuters)