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Israel settlements building slammed

The European Union, the United Nations and the Arab League have rebuked Israel after its refusal to halt settlement construction forced Washington to drop efforts to relaunch Middle East peace talks.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stuck to his position that he won't negotiate without a freeze of Jewish settlement building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem - lands captured by Israel and sought by the Palestinians for their state. He spoke after meeting in Cairo with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.

"Without halt of settlements, there will be no talks," Abbas said.

With the path to direct talks effectively blocked, it is not clear what the Obama administration will do next. Israeli and Palestinian envoys were summoned to Washington for separate meetings with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

She saw Israeli envoy Yitzhak Molcho on Thursday, followed by talks with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat on Friday. Molcho also met Obama envoy George Mitchell for three hours, State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said.

Clinton is to address the situation in a speech later Friday. US officials have refused to offer a detailed preview, but have said they expect she will express disappointment with the failure of the administration's efforts to date.

The officials said the hope is that enough progress can be made on security issues and setting a final border between Israel and a future Palestinian state in separate talks with the sides to pave the way for a resumption of direct negotiations.

Israel and the Palestinians launched the latest round of peace talks on Sept. 2. But less than a month later, negotiations broke down after Israel refused to extend a 10-month-old freeze on West Bank housing starts that ended at the end of September.

In recent weeks, the US had tried to persuade Israel to extend a limited West Bank settlement freeze for 90 days, offering a series of security and diplomatic incentives. However, the negotiations over an extension broke down, and U.S. officials announced earlier this week they had abandoned that approach.

Washington did not cast blame. But other members of the so-called Quartet of Mideast mediators, which also includes the EU, the UN and Russia, sharply criticized Israel.

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