Page last updated at 02:24 GMT, Monday, 25 January 2010

Benjamin Netanyahu: Israel will never quit settlements

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joins Jewish settlers in planting a tree during a ceremony marking the Jewish Arbor Day in the settlement of Maale Adumim in the occupied West Bank, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, on January 24, 2010
Mr Netanyahu's comments have angered Palestinians

The Israeli prime minister has taken part in tree-planting ceremonies in the West Bank while declaring Israel will never leave those areas.

Benjamin Netanyahu said the Jewish settlements blocs would always remain part of the state of Israel.

His remarks came hours after a visit by US envoy George Mitchell who is trying to reopen peace talks between Israel and Palestinians.

A Palestinian spokesman said the comments undermined peace negotiations.

"Our message is clear: We are planting here, we will stay here, we will build here. This place will be an inseparable part of Israel for eternity", the prime minister said.

Mr Netanyahu's comments have angered Palestinians, who want a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.

"This is an unacceptable act that destroys all the efforts being exerted by Senator Mitchell in order to bring back the parties to the negotiating table", Palestinian spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina told the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, in the Jordanian capital Amman, Mr Mitchell emphasised the US commitment to the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

"We intend to continue to pursue our efforts until that objective is achieved", he told AP.

US attempts to revive peace talks have stalled over the Jewish settlement issue.

Palestinians say they will not return to peace talks unless Israel stops settlement building in the West Bank.

Israel has a long-standing commitment under an existing peace plan to stop settlement growth.

But the Israeli government has temporarily curbed construction as a goodwill gesture, though not in East Jerusalem.

The two sides appear no closer even to sitting in the same room, says the BBC's Tim Franks in Jerusalem.

All settlements in the the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

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