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Britain, France summon Israel envoys over settlement concern

Israel's envoys in Paris and London have been called in to explain the country's planned settlement construction in the West Bank. European nations, as well as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, criticized the expansion.

The ambassadors were formally called in Monday for France and the United Kingdom to express their concern over Israel's planned settlement expansion.

Israel authorized the construction of 3,000 new settlement homes in the West Bank hours after Palestine was granted nonmember observer status last week at the United Nations.

France and the UK condemned the move over the weekend, saying it risked international confidence in Israel's ability to make peace with the Palestinians.

"The [Ambassador to France Yossi Gal] has been summoned in order to express our disapproval," Foreign Ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot said.

A British Foreign Office spokesman said Israel's Ambassador to London, Daniel Taub, had been summoned, and that foreign minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, "set out the depth of the UK's concerns."

"Any decision about any other measures the UK might take will depend on the outcome of our discussions with the Israeli government and with international partners including the US and European Union," the spokesman added.

Settlement expansion

The Israeli media have reported some of the new proposed settlements are to be built in E1, a contentious area in the West Bank on the edge of East Jerusalem. Such a move would effectively split the West Bank in two.

A statement from a spokesman for Ban Ki-moon said "it was with grave concern and disappointment" that the UN secretary-general had learned of the proposed construction.

"This would include reported planning in the so-called E1 envelope, which risks completely cutting off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank," the statement read. "Settlements are illegal under international law and, should the E1 settlement be constructed, it would represent an almost fatal blow to the remaining chances of securing a two-state solution."

Plans condemned

Germany also criticized the settlement expansion Monday. Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said on social media website Twitter that Israel's actions "send a negative signal at a time when above all direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians are necessary."

"The German government asks that Israel refrain from the proposed construction of the housing units," Seibert wrote.

Seibert also said that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is still planning on meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday for dinner and talks.

Russia urged Israel to reconsider the expansion, with a Foreign Ministry statement saying the country "views these Israeli intentions with the most serious concern."

"Implementation of the announced plans for large-scale settlement activity would have a very negative effect on efforts to resume direct negotiations aimed at a two-state solution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict," it said.

dr/msh (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)