Barak asks UN head to boost peace talks

Barak asks Ben Ki-moon t

Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Tuesday held a phone conversation with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and asked him to assist in renewing peace talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Barak also updated the UN chief regarding Israeli efforts meet the humanitarian needs of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. On Monday, Barak discussed the resumption of peace talks with Quartet envoy to the Middle East Tony Blair. During the discussion, the defense minister called for the Europeans to join forces with the US and Egypt in efforts to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. However, a spokesman for Abbas on Tuesday said that a decision by a Jerusalem municipality committee to approve the construction of four new residential buildings to house Jewish families on the Mount of Olives showed that Israel was feigning its interest in peace. Israel "is actually destroying [prospects for] peace by violating international law, UN resolutions and the Road Map agreement," Channel 10 quoted the Abbas spokesman as saying. The statement from Abbas's office went on to warn that the buildings were destined to be demolished. "Every shekel Israel wastes on settlement construction is a shame," the statement reportedly said. After meeting in Sharm e-Sheikh with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Abbas said on Monday that he did not want to resume peace talks with Israel on an "unclear basis," and reiterated his demand for a complete cessation of settlement activity. Abbas said he reached understandings with Cairo on the required terms for resuming the peace talks. He said the two sides agreed that Jerusalem must be included in the talks and that Israel should freeze all settlement construction. "In principle, we have no objections to returning to the negotiating table or holding any kind of meetings," Abbas said. "Nor are we setting preconditions." Asked if he would be willing to hold a tripartite meeting with Mubarak and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Abbas said: "We have said - and we continue to say - that we are ready to resume the talks once settlement construction is halted and international terms of reference are recognized as the basis for the negotiations." Herb Keinon and Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report