Abbas says no talks with Israel if settlements continue

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday told U.S. President Barack Obama there could be no talks with Israel without a freeze on settlement construction.

“A resumption of negotiations is not possible without an Israeli settlement freeze in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip,” Abbas’s political adviser Nimr Hammad quoted him as telling Obama during a two-and-a-half-hour meeting.

U.S. President Barack Obama met Palestinian officials on the second day of his Mideast tour to emphasize the importance of reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, a message underscored Thursday when Palestinian militants in Gaza launched rockets into southern Israel.

“It's been U.S. policy we do not consider continued settlement activity to be constructive, appropriate to advance peace,” Obama reiterated in his speech.

“If we can get direct negotiations started again, I believe the shape of a deal is there,” the American president hopefully carried on.

Obama expressed the want for all people in world and in Palestine to know “the U.S. is committed to reaching a solution”.

In an additional statement of hope, Obama said “we cannot give up because of the young Palestinians and young Israelis.”

However, Palestinians say settlements are a major obstacle and cannot envision a final peace settlement while their state is cut off from Jerusalem and does not include any of the city. They have expressed disappointment that Obama appears to have dropped his first-term insistence that Israel refrain from settlement construction to improve the atmosphere for negotiations.

On Wednesday, Obama reaffirmed the unwavering U.S. commitment to Israel’s security and noted there had been no fatal attacks on Israelis from the West Bank, which is controlled by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

That calm has not extended to Gaza, which is run by the militant Islamic Hamas movement. As Obama began his program Thursday, Israeli police said militants in Gaza had fired two rockets at the southern town of Sderot.

Over the past decade, Gaza militants have fired thousands of rockets and mortar shells at Israel, prompting Israel, with considerable U.S. assistance, to develop its Iron Dome missile defense system, which it credits with intercepting hundreds of rockets.

In contrast to Israel, the Palestinians have shown little excitement over the Obama visit. In the run-up, demonstrators have defaced and destroyed posters of Obama in an expression of dissatisfaction with U.S. policy in the region.

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