UAE will not support talks if new Israeli settlements continue

Minister gives 'clear message' to US that Arab world 'could not give its support' to proximity talks between Palestine and Israel under those conditions.

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ABU DHABI // The UAE would not support US-brokered proximity talks between Israelis and Palestinians if Israeli settlement activity continues unimpeded, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, said yesterday. Sheikh Abdullah said the UAE conveyed "a clear message of concern" to the US that it and the rest of the Arab world "could not give its support" to the talks under those conditions. His comments followed the announcement by Israel that 1,600 housing units will be built in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem, threatening to undercut the US effort to restart talks between the two sides.

Israel sealed off the West Bank for 48 hours starting on Thursday night amid fears of violence as tension heightened over plans for the new homes. The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) yesterday welcomed international condemnation of Israel's announcement and said it had requested the US to provide guarantees that the construction would not go ahead. Tayeb Abdul Rahim, the secretary general of the office of Mahmoud Abbas, the PLO chairman, said last night that Palestinian negotiators were awaiting a response from the US administration before indirect negotiations with Israel could proceed.

Mr Rahim said that actions taken by Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, "could cancel" the talks. Referring to the US criticism of the Israel announcement, Mr Rahim added: "Rhetoric should be matched with action." Saeb Erekat, the PLO's chief negotiator, urged the international community to pressure Israel to end all settlement construction in occupied territory. Sheikh Abdullah's remarks came at a press conference with his Cypriot counterpart, Markos Kyprianou, at Emirates Palace.

Mr Kyprianou said Cyprus, a member state of the European Union that supports the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, considered that "these kinds of activities only complicate and undermine" the ongoing efforts to reach a comprehensive settlement between the two parties. The two foreign ministers met to discuss bilateral issues and ways to strengthen their economic relations.

Mr Kyprianou said his visit was meant to explore how Cyprus could contribute to the broadening of relations between the EU, the UAE and the GCC. In response to a question about Iran, Sheikh Abdullah said the relationship with Tehran was "improving", notably on trade issues, despite the lingering dispute over the three UAE islands occupied by Iran in 1971. Regarding the nuclear dispute between Iran and the international community, Sheikh Abdullah expressed his hope that it would be resolved peacefully.

He affirmed, however, that were sanctions to be adopted by the United Nations Security Council, the UAE would respect and implement them. Sheikh Abdullah welcomed the condemnation by the European Council of the violation of Emirati sovereignty in the assassination of the Hamas figure Mahmoud al Mabhouh. Al Mabhouh was killed in his room at a hotel in Dubai in January. So far, 27 suspects have been identified in the case.

"We are going to be extremely aggressive in showing our right to getting these individuals but also sending a very clear message to whoever is behind [the crime] that the UAE is fully committed in protecting its territories," Sheikh Abdullah said.