United Nations (ANTARA News/AFP) - The United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations on Tuesday attacked Israel`s move to expand a West Bank settlement as a threat to peace efforts.

The new public condemnation of Israel came amid intense efforts by Tony Blair, the diplomatic Quartet`s special envoy, to get the Palestinians and Israelis back into direct talks, diplomats reported.

"The Quartet is greatly concerned by Israel`s recent announcements to advance planning for new housing units in Ariel and east Jerusalem," the four said in a statement.

"This comes at a critical juncture with Quartet efforts ongoing to resume negotiations which are the only way to a just and durable solution to the conflict," added the statement.

Israel on Monday approved the building of 277 new homes in Ariel, a Jewish settlement inside the occupied West Bank, taking the total to more than 2,700 new settler homes approved in the past two weeks.

The planned expansion has brought a furious response from the Palestinian Authority, which has shunned direct talks since Israel ended a moratorium on settlement building in September last year.

Israel has rejected the international criticism, insisting that the settlements are not an obstacle to direct talks.

Former British prime minister Blair, who has been the Quartet`s special envoy since 2007, is working on a Quartet communique which he hopes could end divisions between the international powers and help get talks started again before the UN assembly.

"Those efforts are still going on. Tony Blair is in the center of efforts trying to find the relevant wording to move forward," said a senior diplomat at the United Nations.(*)

Editor: Jafar M Sidik
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