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Peres clashes with EU officials over settlements

The Israeli president, Shimon Peres, asked the EU on Wednesday to act against Hamas and not to consider settlements in the occupied West Bank an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians.

During a one-hour meeting with EU Chief Herman Van Rompuy, Peres said that the EU has to act against Hamas which controls the Gaza Strip and that it is the reason for terrorism in the region.

"The EU can help us in putting an end to terror by condemning Hamas because they are the centre of terror," Peres said. Peres also spoke about Hezbollah and the Iranian nuclear program as a threat to the region.

Rompuy, who warmly welcomed Israel's president, hailed the EU-Israeli relations and said that there were several steps being taken to improve them. "We appreciate their [relations] relevance and richness," Van Rompuy said, adding that they agreed "to seek further ways to expand them."

Nevertheless, he criticised Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank and called settlement expansion "illegal."

However, Peres dismissed the criticism and blamed the deadlock in the peace process as the main reason for tension in the region. He went on to assert that the settlement issue was resolved through a land swap agreement.

Peres seemed optimistic over the resumption of peace negotiations after the recent US and Israeli elections. He said: "I don't think the opportunity to make peace is over. There is a new chance to reopen negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians."

On his part, Rompuy explained the EU position on the peace process: "I underlined the EU's determination to continue supporting the peace process through its various instruments … as well as its commitment to the security of Israel, including with regard to vital threats in the region," Rompuy said.

"There will be no sustainable peace until the Palestinian's aspirations for statehood and sovereignty and those of Israelis for security are fulfilled through a comprehensive and negotiated peace based on the two-State solution," he added.

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