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Palestinians want UN session on Israel settlements

RAMALLAH, West Bank – The Palestinian president wants a U.N. Security Council session to discuss Israeli settlement construction, the official Palestinian news agency said Wednesday, a day after President Barack Obama and Israel's premier exchanged harsh statements on the issue.

Israel's Interior Ministry announced this week that a plan to build 1,300 homes for Jews in disputed east Jerusalem would be made available for public comments — a procedural step preceding construction. That set off a round of condemnations, highlighted by Obama's remark that such plans are unhelpful to efforts to restart peace talks.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reiterated Wednesday that U.S. was "deeply disappointed" by the Israeli step. "This announcement is counterproductive for efforts to resume negotiations between the parties," Clinton said during a video conference with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

The Palestinians want to establish their future capital in east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast War. Israel annexed east Jerusalem immediately after the war — a step not recognized by the international community — and has since built neighborhoods there for nearly 200,000 Jews in an attempt to tighten its hold over the area.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will not relinquish east Jerusalem.

On Tuesday, his office defended the decision to move forward with planning the 1,300 apartments, saying Israel had never agreed to freeze construction there and it would continue building.

The sharp exchange came during Netanyahu's trip to the U.S., where American officials are trying to find a formula to rescue the Mideast peace talks relaunched at the White House in September. Netanyahu meets Clinton on Thursday.

Palestinians have refused to continue the talks unless Israel renews a 10-month slowdown in West Bank settlement construction that expired in September. Netanyahu has refused to do that, saying the settlement issue should be discussed in negotiations.

On Wednesday, the WAFA news agency said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas instructed the permanent Palestinian representative at the U.N. "to request an urgent meeting of the U.N. Security Council ... to study the issue of settlements spreading through Jerusalem and the West Bank."

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said the request was not related to the idea, floated by Abbas and others, to ask the Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state should peace efforts break down for good.

The WAFA report did not say when the formal request for a Security Council meeting would be made. The likely outcome would be a nonbinding statement.

Abbas controls only the West Bank after the Islamic militant group Hamas overran the Gaza Strip in 2007, expelling forces loyal to Abbas, who is embroiled in a power struggle with Hamas in the West Bank as well.

Israel, which has overall security control of the West Bank, has also been cracking down on Hamas.

On Wednesday, Israeli soldiers arrested a prominent Hamas lawmaker from the West Bank in a pre-dawn raid.

The military said in a statement that Mahmoud Ramahi had been involved in recent Hamas activity. It gave no further details. Israel considers Hamas, an Iranian-backed militant group that has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings and other attacks, a terrorist organization.

Ramahi's wife, Amani, said some of the troops who arrested her husband wore face masks.

Ramahi was among dozens of Hamas lawmakers and Cabinet ministers arrested in 2006 after Hamas-linked Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip captured an Israeli soldier. Ramahi was released in 2009.

Ahmed Bahar of Hamas, the deputy parliament speaker in Gaza, called the arrest "part of the comprehensive, systematic war against our homeland."

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