EU’s Ashton edgy on new Israeli settlement moves

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EU Foreign Affairs Chief Catherine Ashton said Friday she is worried about mounting tensions in East Jerusalem and the West Bank after conflicting messages from Israel on settlement activity.

“The High Representative is concerned by developments over the past week in East Jerusalem and the West Bank which have increased tensions on the ground and risk undermining current efforts to re-launch peace talks,” her office in Brussels said in a statement.

“It is important that those concerned exercise maximum restraint and refrain from any actions which could drive the sides to the conflict further apart.”

The communique said Ashton was “disturbed by recent events in East Jerusalem such as those that took place at Orthodox Easter, the unrest in the area of the Haram al Sharif/Temple Mount and the temporary detention of the Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine on Wednesday.”

She underlined that it was “essential that access to the holy sites in Jerusalem for peaceful worship for all denominations is fully respected.”

She also railed against reports of the approval of Israeli settlement plans for 300 houses near Ramallah in the West Bank.

“The EU has repeatedly declared settlements to be illegal under international law and to constitute an obstacle to peace,” the statement said.

Israel has signed off on plans for nearly 300 new settler homes near Ramallah, angering the Palestinians who accused the Israeli government Thursday of trying to “sabotage” U.S. moves to rekindle peace talks.

Thursday’s announcement came just days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly ordered a freeze on tenders for new West Bank settler homes to avoid harming efforts by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to bring both sides back to the negotiating table.