U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Sunday Israel's continued settlement building could hurt Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
Rice made the comment as she began her sixth trip to the region this year to try to nudge both sides toward a peace deal by the end of 2008 -- a goal widely viewed as unrealistic.
Disputes over settlements and a corruption scandal that could topple Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have undercut U.S. efforts to reach a deal before President George W. Bush steps down in January, Israeli, Palestinian and Western officials say.
Israel said on Saturday it planned to build 1,300 new buildings in the occupied West Bank. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called the move part of "a systematic policy to destroy" the peace process.
"I am very concerned that at a time when we need to build confidence between the parties, the continued building and the settlement activity has the potential to harm the negotiations going forward," Rice told reporters before she met Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in Jerusalem.
Rice later travelled to the West Bank city of Ramallah for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
But Israel ignored these warnings.
"It's clear to everyone that the Jewish neighbourhoods of Jerusalem will remain part of Israel in any possible final status agreement," Olmert spokesman Mark Regev said.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of the state they aim to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israel has repeatedly announced plans to build more buildings in Jewish settlements, violating its commitments to halt all settlement activity under a 2003 U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan.
Rice planned to see Olmert and Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak later in the day. She will also have three-way talks with Livni and former Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qurei, the lead negotiators.
In the Gaza Strip, the Islamist Hamas group that controls the territory said "nothing good could come from Rice's visit".
Last Mod: 15 Haziran 2008, 16:14