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Israeli Officials say US Urging West Bank Settlement Freeze

  • VOA News

Israeli officials say the United States is pressuring Israel to offer concessions to the Palestinians ahead of a planned Mideast peace conference.

The officials say Washington wants Israel's government to declare a complete freeze on construction in West Bank settlements. They say the US also is pushing Israel to increase the number of Palestinian prisoners it plans to free before the conference.

Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is expected to ask his Cabinet Monday to approve the release of 450 prisoners, fewer than the two-thousand prisoners requested by the Palestinians.

Mr. Olmert is to meet Monday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to try to narrow differences on a joint document about Palestinian statehood to be presented at the peace conference.

The foreign ministers of Britain and France held talks with leaders in Israel and the West Bank today as part of efforts to boost the conference's chance of success.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says an Israeli declaration of a settlement freeze would be positive step toward Israel meeting its obligations under the road map peace plan. But, Erekat says he doubts Israel would implement such a move.

Israel's government has said it permits construction in officially authorized settlements to account for what it calls the "natural growth" of communities.
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