The United Nations and the European Union on Thursday rebuked the Netanyahu government after its refusal to halt settlement construction forced Washington to drop efforts to relaunch Mideast peace talks.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak met Thursday with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York and told reporters he had sought UN help in restarting the talks.

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Ban expressed regret at the meeting "that Israel will not heed the united call of the international community, as reflected by the Quartet, to extend the settlement restraint policy," UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

"In spite of this setback, the secretary-general believes it is more important than ever to promote a negotiated endgame for a two-state solution," Nesirky said.

Barak told reporters after the meeting that it was "an urgent necessity" that negotiations resume and said it was not the rate of settlement construction that was the problem but suspicion and mutual distrust.

While Washington, did not blame Israel for the breakdown in peace talks, another member of the so-called Quartet of Mideast mediators, which includes the EU, the UN and Russia along with the US, sharply criticized Israel.



"I note with regret that Israel has not been in a position to accept an extension of the (settlement) moratorium, as requested by the US, the EU and the Quartet," Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, said Thursday.

"The EU position on settlements is clear: They are illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace. Recent settlement-related developments, including in east Jerusalem, contradict efforts by the international community for successful negotiations," she said.

Israeli officials declined to comment on the international criticism.

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