US And Israel In Last-Minute Talks To Resolve Row

The US and Israel have been holding last-minute talks to try to agree on steps Israel should take to get peace talks with Palestinians back on track.

The US and Israel have been holding last-minute talks to try to agree on steps Israel should take to get peace talks with Palestinians back on track.

The US admitted earlier differences remained between the two sides, following a row over Israel's plans to build homes in occupied East Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu twice extended his visit in Washington to try to find a compromise.

Mr Netanyahu's trip came amid the worst crisis in US-Israeli ties for decades.

The Israeli leader - who had originally planned to leave Washington on Tuesday - stayed on for another full day to meet the US Middle East peace envoy, George Mitchell, at his hotel.

Mr Mitchell returned to the US on Tuesday following a meeting in the West Bank with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

'Playing tough'

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama held "honest" talks with Mr Netanyahu, urging him to take steps to build confidence in the peace process, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

Mr Gibbs added that the US was seeking "clarification" of the latest plans to build homes in occupied East Jerusalem.

The White House was reportedly seeking to persuade Mr Netanyahu to commit to several trust-building measures to revive hopes for indirect "proximity talks" between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Palestinians pulled out of moves towards talks two weeks ago, after Israel unveiled plans to build 1,600 homes in the East Jerusalem settlement of Ramat Shlomo.

The project was approved during a visit by US Vice-President Joe Biden - a move which Washington branded an insult.

Minutes before Mr Netanyahu's fence-mending visit to the White House on Tuesday, it emerged the Jerusalem municipal government had approved another development.

Twenty apartments are to be built for Jewish settlers on the site of an old hotel in the predominantly Arab neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

Mr Gibbs told reporters on Wednesday there were areas of agreement and disagreement between the sides, following the two meetings in Washington, one of which was unscheduled.

"The president has asked the prime minister for certain things to build confidence up to proximity talks that we think can make progress," Mr Gibbs said.

He reiterated the American position that there was an "unbreakable bond" between the US and the Israeli people.

The Israelis said there had been a "good atmosphere" during Tuesday's talks.

But the BBC's Kim Ghattas in Washington notes Mr Netanyahu did not get the reception usually reserved for America's allies.

There was no press conference, no lavish welcome, and the White House did not even release a picture of the meeting.

It all signals that the US is playing tough, making clear it is upset with the Israeli government, says our correspondent.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem for their future capital, but Israel insists the city cannot be divided.

Nearly half a million Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

They are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

source: bbc