Israel rejects US call over settlement work…

Israel will continue to allow some construction in West Bank settlements despite US calls for a freeze on its work, a government spokesman says.

Mark Regev said the fate of the settlements should be decided in peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

His remarks appear to be a rebuff to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said all such activity should cease.

Her comments came hours before Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was due to meet US President Barack Obama.

Mrs Clinton said on Wednesday there must be no exceptions to President Obama’s demands for Israel’s settlement work to stop.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting with her Egyptian counterpart, Mrs Clinton said that the president was “very clear” with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at their recent meeting that there should be a stop to all settlements.

“Not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions,” Mrs Clinton said.

“We think it is in the best interest of the effort that we are engaged in that settlement expansion cease.”

Correspondents say it is the first time in years that US officials have been so vocal in calling for a settlement freeze in the Palestinian territories.

Stumbling block

Mr Regev said on Thursday that the future of the settlements would be decided only when peace negotiations were held with the Palestinians.

“In the interim period, we have to allow normal life in those communities to continue,” he said.

He was echoing comments made by Mr Netanyahu on Sunday.

Mr Netanyahu said no new settlements would be built, but natural growth in existing settlements should be allowed.

“There is no way that we are going to tell people not to have children or to force young people to move away from their families,” he was quoted as telling the Israeli cabinet.
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