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UN chief Ban Ki-moon demands Israel settlements halt

Ban Ki-moon "All settlement activity is illegal"

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said Israeli settlement building anywhere in occupied territory is illegal and must stop.

Mr Ban is in the Middle East to meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders and press them to resume peace talks.

Israel's controversial announcement of plans to build 1,600 more homes in East Jerusalem has inflamed tensions in the region and between Israel and the US.

The Palestinian leadership has said the plan is an obstacle to resuming talks.

Mr Ban's statement comes a day after he made a similar call, speaking for the international Quartet of Middle East peace mediators - the UN, Russia, the EU and the US.

Meanwhile violence in the West Bank continued, with a Palestinian teenager shot dead and another badly hurt in clashes with Israeli troops near the city of Nablus, Palestinian medical officials said.

The Israeli military says its forces were responding to what it called a "violent riot" by Palestinian youths who were throwing stones at Israeli settlers, the BBC's West Bank correspondent Jon Donnison reports.

But it says no live bullets were fired, only tear gas and rubber bullets.

Diplomatic flurry

Mr Ban's first stop was in the West Bank town of Ramallah, where he met PM Salam Fayyad.

A Palestinian demonstrator uses a slingshot to hurl stones at Israeli soldiers near Nablus, 20 March 2010
Palestinian protesters and Israeli troops have clashed in the West Bank

The UN secretary-general was escorted to a West Bank observation point on the outskirts of Ramallah to see the Israeli West Bank settlement of Givat Zeev, home to 11,000 Israelis.

Mr Ban, who later went on to talks with Israeli President Shimon Peres, reiterated the Quartet's stance on the settlements.

"The world has condemned Israel's expansion plans in East Jerusalem.

"Let us be clear: all settlement activity is illegal anywhere in occupied territory, and this must stop."

Mr Ban has stated the goal of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement - including a Palestinian state - within two years.

He said he hoped to see Jerusalem become the capital of both an Israeli and a Palestinian state.

The last time Mr Ban came to Israel was in the immediate aftermath of Israel's military operation against Gaza 14 months ago, when he did not hide his anger over the high human cost of that operation.

Doctors treat a Palestinian man after Israel air strikes
At least 11 Palestinians were injured in Israeli strikes on Gaza's airport

On Sunday, the US special representative George Mitchell will also visit the region to try to get indirect talks going between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to travel to Washington, where he is expected to meet Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and possibly President Barack Obama.

Speaking to the BBC on Friday, Mrs Clinton indicated that hardening the tone with Israel had paid off, with talks now back in prospect.

"I think we are going to see the resumption of the negotiating track, and that means that is paying off, because that is our goal," she said.

Israeli strikes

The diplomatic efforts come as at least 11 people were injured by Israeli air strikes targeting Gaza's airport, Palestinian officials say.

HAVE YOUR SAY
Common sense points in the direction of a one state solution. Even if the state is a 51st of the US or a special administrative region of the EU does it matter?
SgtPatrickHarper

The Israeli military confirmed the missile strikes near Rafah, in southern Gaza, which it said had targeted militants.

It was the second night of Israeli raids since a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip killed a worker on an Israeli farm on Thursday.

Friday's missiles hit Gaza's long disused international airport and tunnels dug by militants near the border with Israel.

On Thursday, Israeli missiles hit smuggling tunnels and a metal workshop in Gaza, but there were no reports of serious injuries.

An Israeli military spokesman said the strikes were a response to five rockets fired at Israel from Gaza in the past two days - including one that killed a farm worker from Thailand in a kibbutz in southern Israel.

He was the first person to be killed by rocket fire in southern Israel since the Israeli campaign in Gaza last year.



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