Israeli PM plays down US tensions, threatens Gaza

Netanyahu tried to play down tensions with the U.S. over Israel's settlement building plans.

Israeli PM plays down US tensions, threatens Gaza

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to play down tensions with the U.S. on Sunday following a three day visit to Washington to discuss strained relations over Israel's settlement building plans.

Washington had been angered after Israeli officials announced, during a visit by Joe Biden, the US vice-president, that 1,600 new housing units would be built in occupied East Jerusalem. No public statements were made or photo opportunities permitted during the meeting between Netanyahu and Barack Obama.

Analysts have described as a snub Obama's low-profile White House talks with Netanyahu on Tuesday.

"Disaster"

In a banner headline, Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth, quoted an unidentified Netanyahu confidant as saying: "We've got a real problem. You could say that Obama is the greatest disaster for Israel -- a strategic disaster."

In his first public comments on the matter, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet that Israel and the U.S. can work out their differences.

"The relationship between Israel and the U.S. is one between allies and friends, and it's a relationship based on years of tradition," Netanyahu said. "Even if there are disagreements, these are disagreements between friends, and that's how they will stay."

Netanyahu gave no indication in his public remarks at the session that he intended to halt settlement in East Jerusalem, an issue that delayed the start of indirect, U.S.-mediated peace talks.

But the statement -- distributed to correspondents by text message, and followed by two telephone calls from a Netanyahu spokesman to check it was being published -- appeared to signal the Israeli leader's wish not to worsen tensions with Obama.

"There were areas in which there was swift agreement," Netanyahu told the cabinet about the talks.

"In areas where there was disagreement, we tried to take, and we did take, certain steps to narrow the gaps in order to move the (peace) process forward," he said, without elaborating.

Defying U.S. pressure, Netanyahu has said Israel would not stop building in occupied West Bank territory.

The Palestinians pulled out of the so-called proximity talks after the settlement announcement, demanding that all construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank is halted before they can resume.

"We cannot resume indirect negotiations as long as Israel maintains its settlement policy and the status quo," Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, said at a summit of Arab leadersin Libya at the Arab League summit have been united in their condemnation of Israel's settlement activity in occupied Palestinian land.

"Gaza threat"

Netanyahu threatened Gaza an attack.

"Israel's response policy is decisive and firm. It provides a firm answer to any harm caused to our citizens and soldiers. This policy is known and will continue," Netanyahu told reporters at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.

Two Palestinians and Israeli soldiers were killed on Friday in the most deadly clash on the Israel-Gaza frontier since Israel ended an offensive there 14 months ago.

The incident was followed by an Israeli army incursion into Khan Younis in the central Gaza Strip. The troops returned to Israeli territory on Saturday.

Israel killed up to 1500 Palestinians in the Gaza attack.


Agencies

Güncelleme Tarihi: 28 Mart 2010, 16:36

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