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Israel feels heat from European allies

Although Europe considers all Israeli settlement construction illegal, the summoning of ambassadors in France, Britain and Sweden to accuse Israel of undermining already troubled peace efforts was an unusually strong expression of displeasure. It came at a time when Israel was already smarting over Europe's failure to back the Jewish state in its campaign against the statehood move.

The Europeans were furious over Israel's announcement Friday that it would move ahead on plans to build 3,000 settler homes to punish the Palestinians for winning U.N. recognition of a state of Palestine in territories Israel captured in 1967.

Israel also said it would begin planning work on an especially sensitive piece of land outside Jerusalem that it has refrained from developing because of U.S. pressure. A meeting with developers and other interested parties was to take place Wednesday.

After a flurry of angry phone calls from European capitals to Israel over the weekend, France summoned the Israeli envoy to Paris late Monday morning.

France, the first major European country to announce support for the Palestinian statehood effort, also sent a letter to the Israeli government, calling the settlement decision "a considerable obstacle to the two-state solution."

Britain, which abstained in the U.N. vote, urged Israel to reverse the decision as it summoned Israeli Ambassador Daniel Taub to the Foreign Office. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt told parliament that "together with other E.U. countries we will discuss other potential steps," but he would not elaborate.

British officials said London was looking to Washington to take the lead, and that British diplomats were meeting with American counterparts on Monday.

None of the three European governments openly threatened any concrete measures to punish Israel.

"Our ambassadors were called in and the countries protested about the announcement about the intention to do further construction in settlements," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson said.

Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported earlier Monday that Britain and France were considering recalling their ambassadors to Israel in a symbolic but potent expression of dissent. Hirschson said no such intention had been communicated to Israel, and French and British officials denied the report.

The Canadian Press


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