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Kerry urges calm after Israel settlement plan announced

US Secretary of State John Kerry has stressed the need for calm after Israel announced plans for more settlements in the occupied territories. Germany earlier expressed optimism over forthcoming peace talks.

Kerry on Monday urged Palestinians "not to react adversely" to the announcement that more settlements would be built by Israel in the occupied territories.

The Secretary of State stressed the importance of "getting to the table quickly," while also condemning the planned building program.

"The United States of America views all of the settlements as illegitimate," said Kerry, in Bogota, while adding that the Israeli plans had, to an extent, been expected. Only by entering into talks swiftly could the issue be addressed, said Kerry, who was attending bilateral talks with his opposite number in Colombia.

"Once you have security and borders solved, you have resolved the question of settlements," he said. "With the negotiation of major issues, these kind of hotpoint issues ... are eliminated as the kind of flashpoints that they may be viewed today," said Kerry, at a joint press conference with Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin.

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Kerry hopeful despite new settlements

"I urge all the parties not to react adversely or to provoke adversely, whichever party may do one or the other in any way, but to understand the importance of the moment that everyone has achieved here, and that is to move forward quietly, carefully, deliberately to negotiate the major issues," said Kerry.

Announcements upset both sides

The approval of the building of almost 800 housing units in annexed east Jerusalem - as well as some 400 elsewhere in the West Bank on Sunday - sparked disgruntlement from many Palestinians after last month's agreement to resume peace talks.

That announcement was followed by Israel confirming that it would release 26 veteran Palestinian prisoners, which caused consternation among Israeli political hardliners.

Meanwhile, on a visit to the region, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said he believed there was a genuine will for peace ahead of the talks beginning on Wednesday. Westerwelle warned against the strengthening of those opposed to peace.

"We have to strengthen those that are calling for balance and who want to build bridges," said the minster, after meeting both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday.

rc/msh (AFP, AP, dpa Reuters)

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