The Palestinians have refused to hold indirect talks with the Israelis, unless Tel Aviv annuls its decision to build 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem.

“We want to hear from [United States envoy] George Mitchell that Israel has cancelled the decision to build housing units before we start the negotiations,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has said.

His remarks on Thursday reinforce observations made a day earlier by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who had told visiting U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden that indirect talks can commence only if Israel cancelled its decision to build new houses in East Jerusalem an area Israel annexed during the 1967 Arab-Israel war. For 15 months, the Palestinians have not held talks with Israel, which has been refusing to accept a comprehensive freeze on the construction of settlements in the occupied territories of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

On Tuesday, the Israelis embarrassed visiting U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden by announcing the decision to construct 1600 new homes. Mr. Biden condemned the move, but has, regardless, continued to press for indirect talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis, steered by Washington's special envoy to West Asia, George Mitchell.

On Wednesday, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa announced at a press conference that Mr. Abbas had conveyed to him his refusal to hold indirect talks with Israel at this juncture. “The Palestinian President decided he will not enter into those negotiations now ... the Palestinian side is not ready to negotiate under the present circumstances,” said Mr. Moussa following an emergency session of delegates at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo.

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