Israeli FM says 'no' to settlement freeze

June 18, 2009 at 10:04 AM
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JERUSALEM, June 18 (UPI) -- Israel will not freeze building in the Jewish settlements, the country's foreign minister told U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington.

Foreign Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Clinton Wednesday evening that Israel had understandings with the previous administration, reported Thursday. Lieberman stressed that Israel had no intention of changing the demographic balance in the West Bank and Gaza.

"Everywhere people are born, people die, we cannot accept a vision of stopping completely the settlements We have to keep the natural growth," the Haaretz newspaper quoted him saying.

Clinton said the United States viewed a freeze on construction in the settlements as an" important and essential step," toward achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the newspaper said.

Clinton told Lieberman past Israeli governments had shifted their stance and she expects the current government to do the same. Clinton said U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell would examine a "number of concerns" regarding settlements, and intends to examine more closely where "Israel and the Palestinians will go together," Haaretz reported.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will try to hammer out an agreement at a meeting with Mitchell next week in Europe, the newspaper said.

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