Clinton condemns Israel's demolition of Arab East Jerusalem homes
Move was a violation of international obligations, US secretary of state says at press call with Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas
The US secretary of state said the move was a violation of Israel's international obligations, and the US would raise the matter with the country's leaders.
"Clearly this kind of activity is unhelpful and not in keeping with the obligations entered into under the 'road map'," she said, referring to the long-stalled peace plan. "It is an issue that we intend to raise with the government of Israel and the government at the municipal level in Jerusalem."
Clinton made the comments during her first trip to the Palestinian territories in her new role.In Jerusalem yesterday, she said the creation of an independent Palestinian state was now "inescapable".
However, Palestinian leaders say the continued expansion of Jewish settlements across East Jerusalem and the West Bank make it increasingly difficult for that state to be established.
"The main point is that the Israeli government needs to accept the two-state solution and ... stop settlement expansion," Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said.
Although Abbas has held peace talks with Israeli leaders since late 2007, he has little to show for it.
On Monday, the Israeli group Peace Now reported that the Israeli housing ministry was planning to build at least 73,000 housing units in West Bank settlements.
The organisation said 15,000 units had already been approved and another 58,000 were awaiting approval.
Almost 500,000 settlers now live in east Jerusalem and the West Bank. All settlements are illegal under international law.
The Palestinians will ask Clinton to put pressure on Israel to open its crossings into Gaza to allow in materials for rebuilding after the recent offensive.
"We want the US to help us open the passages to get material for reconstruction into Gaza," Erekat said.
Reports in the Israeli press today said that, in a meeting yesterday, Clinton had pressed the Israeli defence minister, Ehud Barak, to allow more aid into Gaza.
Clinton said the US would send two senior officials to Syria for "preliminary conversations", an apparent sign of a new softening of US policy.
US officials said Jeffrey Feltman, the state department's leading Middle East diplomat, would travel to Damascus along with Dan Shapiro, of the White House's national security council.
Last week, Feltman held talks lasting for almost two hours with the Syrian ambassador to Washington – the highest-level contact between the countries since the start of the Obama government.
Washington recalled its ambassador to Damascus in 2005 after the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri in Beirut.
Obama's administration has been reviewing its policy towards Syria and is considering whether to send an ambassador again.
At a conference to raise aid for the Palestinians, held in Egypt on Monday, Clinton shook hands and spoke briefly with the Syrian foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem.
Clinton's announcement came after she met the Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni. She also met the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, the opposition leader and probable next prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and the current prime minister, Ehud Olmert.
Clinton has said she wants to pursue peace between Israel and the Arab world on "many fronts", suggesting she might encourage Israel and Syria to talk.
Some Israeli figures believe an agreement with Syria may be easier to achieve than a peace deal with the Palestinians.
However, Netanyahu has appeared to rule out negotiations with Syria by refusing to give up the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in 1967.
Netanyahu – who is likely to lead a narrow, rightwing government – has also stopped short of endorsing a two-state solution to end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, which may put his government at odds with the US administration.
Clinton said a two-state deal was in "Israel's best interests".
"The United States will be vigorously engaged in the pursuit of a two-state solution every step of the way," she said. "The inevitability of working toward a two-state solution is inescapable."