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Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Israel offered 'secret deal' on settlements

Citing Israeli officials, the Washington Times reported Tuesday that Tel Aviv has agreed to a partial freeze of settlement construction for six to nine months but still wants to build more than 2,500 new housing units.

In exchange, certain Arab and North African states have privately assured US special Mideast envoy George Mitchell that they would grant over-flight rights to Israeli airliners, open interest sections in Israel, and end a travel ban on Israelis, the report quoted a US official as saying.

Currently Israeli airliners flying to destinations in the Far East must make a wide detour to avoid flying over countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Afghanistan.

Saudi Arabia, however, has refused to grant these assurances, insisting a peace agreement must first be signed.

The report comes just ahead of a tripartite meeting between US President Barack Obama, acting Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

On Monday, Netanyahu's media adviser, Nir Hefetz, told Israeli radio that the premier would not support a settlement freeze, because he considers the settlements to be a "Zionist enterprise."

Based on the report, Netanyahu considers moving forward with 2,500 to 3,000 housing units already approved. He is also seeking to exempt East Jerusalem from the freeze.