Page last updated at 15:38 GMT, Friday, 26 June 2009 16:38 UK

Israel urged to halt settlements

Workers construct a Jewish settlement at Maaleh Adumim near Jerusalem (9 June 2009)
Israel says 'natural growth' should be allowed in existing settlements

Israel has been urged by the Quartet of Middle East mediators to stop all West Bank settlement building activity and to open its border crossings.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the Quartet - the EU, UN, US, and Russia - were hoping to see "meaningful signs of progress" soon.

The declaration follows a similar demand by US President Barack Obama.

Israel says "natural growth" within existing settlements must be permitted, while Palestinians want a freeze.

Mr Ban's comments came after a meeting of Quartet members on the sidelines of a summit of the Group of Eight industrialised nations in the northern Italian town of Trieste.

He said the Quartet members were "urging Israeli authorities to stop settlements, including natural growth, and remove all these blocks and open the crossings".

"This will be the first beginning to make sure all our proposals are implemented," he said.

Mr Ban said the Quartet was "trying very hard to seize on the very favourable political atmosphere" following Mr Obama's attempts to reach out to the Israel, and hoped to see "meaningful signs of progress in the coming few months".

The Palestinian Authority says it has ruled out restarting peace talks with Israel unless it freezes settlement activity and removes all roadblocks in the West Bank.

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