Palestinians blast 'unacceptable' US ambassador comments

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The Palestinians have attacked "unacceptable" comments made by the US ambassador to Israel after he referred to the "alleged occupation" of the Palestinian territories.

In a letter sent to diplomats, a copy of which was seen by AFP, Saeb Erakat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Israel had accelerated settlement building in the occupied Palestinian territories.

"Such actions and practices could not have taken place without the complicity of the international community," the letter added.

It said comments by US ambassador David Friedman to the Jerusalem Post last week in which he referred to the "alleged occupation" amounted to tacit endorsement.

"We consider the statement of the US ambassador to Tel Aviv, Mr David Friedman, referring to the above mentioned situation as 'alleged occupation' as unacceptable," the letter added.

A US official told AFP that the comment "does not represent a shift in US policy".

President Donald Trump is currently seeking to restart frozen peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and the official said the president remained committed to a lasting peace agreement.

The Palestinians have grown increasingly concerned by Trump's team, including Friedman, who have yet to publicly commit to the idea of an independent Palestinian state.

Friedman, who was Trump's personal lawyer before becoming ambassador, has been criticised by the Palestinians for his support for settlements in the occupied West Bank.

In May, he visited a settlement for a wedding, the US embassy confirmed, breaking with years of State Department policy that ambassadors only visit them in exceptional circumstances.

Israel occupied the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War, in a move never recognised by the international community, and more than 600,000 Israelis live in settlements in the areas.

In December, the United Nations Security Council declared all such settlements illegal, and they are seen as one of the largest obstacles to peace.

Israel rejects this and blames Palestinian incitement and intransigence for the deadlock.

The United States has long considered settlements "illegitimate" but it has restrained its criticism since Trump came to power promising to lead the most pro-Israel government in history the administration.

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