US: ‘Serious concerns’ over new Israeli settlements (Video)

The State Department on Monday criticized Israel for approving new settlements on disputed lands on the eve of resuming long-stalled peace talks.

Spokeswoman Marie Harf said the administration had shared its “serious” concerns with the Israeli government following Sunday's announcement of almost 1,200 new settlement homes. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are set to resume talks in Jerusalem on Wednesday after a preliminary meeting hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington late last month.

“These announcements do come at a particularly sensitive time, and we have made our serious concerns about this recent announcement known to the government of Israel,” Harf said. “We do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity.”

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Harf stopped short of labeling the settlement activity “illegal” or of saying it undermines the peace process, as the European Union has. She also declined to say if the State Department had urged the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to put the construction on hold.

The new construction was announced Sunday by Housing Minister Uri Ariel, The Associated Press reported, while a government spokesman said the new homes are in areas Israel expects to retain in any peace deal.

Palestinian negotiator Mohammed Shtayyeh said the settlements could “sabotage” peace talks but did not threaten to leave the negotiating table.

Harf went on to praise Israel for agreeing to release 104 Palestinian prisoners, some of whom are accused of attacking Israelis.

“I would point out to you that the Israeli government is also taking a very difficult but necessary step as part of the peace negotiations to release a number of prisoners as well,” she said.


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