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UK Condemns Israeli Settlement Expansion - Hague

Foreign Secretary William Hague has called on Israel to reverse its decision to build 2000 more Israeli homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, saying he condemns the illegal building programme.

"Israel’s announcement to accelerate the construction of 2,000 settlements housing units, in response to the successful Palestinian application for membership of UNESCO, is a serious blow to the Quartet’s efforts to restart peace negotiations. This settlement building programme is illegal under international law and is the latest in a series of provocative and unhelpful settlement announcements," said Hague.

The foreign secretary also said he was very concerned about Israel's decision to withhold approximately 60 million dollars in Palestinian tax revenues, saying "this is in no-one’s interests, least of all Israel’s, since it has direct implications for the Palestinian Authority’s ability to maintain effective security in the West Bank."

Hague called on both sides to return to the negotiating table and show the courage and leadership necessary to achieve a return to negotiations. Relations between the Palestinians and Israel have not improved much since the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, with several rockets fired from Gaza landing inside Israeli territory.

Last month, Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou Marcoulis also criticised Israel's continued settlement of occupied territory in Gilo as a negative development.

"I really hope that the government of Israel will reconsider this decision and end all settlement activities," said Dr. Marcoullis.

It is of utmost importance that Israelis and Palestinians resume direct negotiations within timelines outlined by the Middle East Quartet, she said.

In related developments, the Palestinian Authority has thanked Cyprus for its supporting vote in Palestine's application to join UNESCO.

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