Israeli settlements to hurt peace talks credibility: Fayyad

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Recently launched Mideast peace talks will lack credibility if Israel builds new Jewish settlements on Palestinian land after the end of a settlement freeze this month, Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad said Tuesday.

"The settlement issue deserves a more serious treatment. The fact that settlements continue on territory where a Palestinian state is to be established hurts the credibility of the peace process," he said.

"When there were no negotiations, there was a slowdown in the settlements. Now that negotiations have begun, the settlement slowdown ends. It is a paradox," he added at a joint news conference with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

Israel's 10-month freeze on new construction in West Bank settlements ends on September 26 and Israeli officials have indicated that they will not extend the freeze as is.

The Israeli government argues construction of settlements continued during previous rounds of peace talks and that building does not compromise a future deal.

But Palestinian negotiators have already said that they would break off direct peace talks with Israel, which only restarted last week after a 20-month lull, if settlement building continues on occupied Palestinian land.

"I think the international community should speak out and say no to the settlements. I believe there should be a common international position against the settlements," said Fayyad.

Earlier on Tuesday Russia and France urged Israel not to endanger talks by continuing to build on Palestinian land after the end of a settlement freeze.

"We must see to it that the negotiations are not broken off on September 26. Everyone who can have an influence on the end of the moratorium must do everything in their power to prevent it," Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after talks in Paris with France's Bernard Kouchner.

© 2010 AFP

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