Mideast Quartet asks Israel to stop settlement in Gaza


London : The Middle East Quartet called on Israel Friday to freeze all settlement activities in the West Bank and lift blockade of Gaza, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.

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In a statement, the Quartet “called on Israel to freeze all settlement activity including natural growth, and to dismantle outposts erected since March 2001.”

The meeting, aimed at easing the effect of restrictions placed by Israel on the Gaza Strip, is chaired by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and attended by Foreign ministers from other three Quartet members, the European Union (EU), the US and Russia.

It also called for continued emergency and humanitarian assistance and “the provision of essential services to Gaza without obstruction.”

“The diplomatic endeavour also expressed its continuing concern over the closure of major Gaza crossing points given the impact on the Palestinian economy and daily life,” the statement said.

The shortage of essential supplies, fuel and electricity has strangled Gaza’s economy, and made life for its 1.5 million inhabitants “intolerable”, it said.

It has also urged to the Arab states to honour their financial and political pledges made at a Paris conference in December 2007 to help the Palestinians.

Humanitarian conditions in Gaza deteriorated after Israel sealed the strip of land after the Islamist Hamas movement took over power in June 2007. Israel says the blockade was aimed at stopping Hamas rocket attacks into Israel.

DPA added: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said it was “extremely important” that Arab states paid out the money they had pledged to ease the crisis facing the Palestinian authority.

US officials say only about a fifth of money promised by Arab nations in December had been paid out. Only $153 million of the $717 million dollars pledged had so far been delivered by only three countries: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Algeria.

Rice also warned that Israel and the Palestinians do not have “unlimited time” to achieve a peace deal.

“I do believe that the window for the two-state solution will not be forever open,” Rice told reporters Thursday while on a plane to London. “I think you could argue that it has gotten narrower and narrower over time.”

Palestinians needed to see improvements in their lives to give them hope and confidence to conclude an agreement with Israel.

Ahead of the talks, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said the peace process was “stumbling – and stumbling badly.”

Speaking in a BBC interview, he said: “For us Palestinians, we’re supposed to build institutions and strengthen institutions, and enhance our capacity in all fields of governance – including security.

“So far as the international donor community is concerned, it was supposed to provide us with the funding necessary to do all of those things.”

Later Friday, Rice was to have talks with foreign ministers from Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China on Iran’s nuclear programme before travelling to the Middle East.