Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon criticised Israel’s foreign minister for revealing their private conversation in breach of diplomatic practise and responded to his appeal for greater balance toward the Jewish state with renewed condemnation of Israel’s approval of 1,600 new homes in predominantly Arab east Jerusalem.

Taking a tough line before leaving for a major meeting on the Mideast and a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, the UN chief declared “without equivocation” that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law. He also called for Israel to end its near blockade of Gaza, saying that sealing off the territory denied residents hope and was undercutting moderates, empowering extremists and encouraging smuggling.

Mr. Ban said it was “regrettable” that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman disclosed details of their phone conversation Monday night to the media without an agreement in advance on what should be released, which is normal diplomatic practise to preserve confidentiality and political sensitivities.

It was the second time Lieberman was embroiled in a diplomatic tiff in as many days.

The foreign minister confirmed Tuesday that he boycotted meetings on Monday with visiting Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, claiming Lula refused to visit the grave of the founder of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl.

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