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EU says Israeli land seizure threatens peace process

The Netherlands' Prime Minister Mark Rutte (L) and Cyprus' President Nicos Anastasiades (2nd L) pose for a family photo with other leaders during an European Union summit over migration in Brussels, Belgium, March 17, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A seizure of land by Israel in the West Bank raises questions about its commitment to a two-state solution to end the conflict with the Palestinians, the European Union said in a statement on Thursday.

Echoing remarks this week by Germany and France, the EU’s foreign policy service issued a rare statement directly criticizing Israel for its appropriation of 579 acres (234 hectares) near Jericho.

“Israel’s decision ... is a further step that risks undermining the viability of a future Palestinian state and therefore calls into question Israel’s commitment to a two-state solution,” the EU said in a statement.

“Any decision that could enable further settlement expansion, which is illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace, will only drive the parties to the conflict even further apart,” the EU said.

“The European Union remains firmly opposed to Israel’s settlement policy and actions taken in this context, including demolitions and confiscations, evictions, forced transfers or restrictions on movement and access.”

Israel’s Peace Now movement, which tracks and opposes Israeli settlement in territory captured in a 1967 war, said the latest seizure represented the largest land confiscation in the West Bank in recent years.

Israel says it intends to keep large settlement blocs in any future peace agreement with the Palestinians. Palestinians, who seek to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, fear settlement expansion will deny them a viable country.

Late last year, the EU published guidelines that products from Israel settlements must be clearly labeled as such in Europe. That policy was branded discriminatory by Israel.

Editing by Robert-Jan Bartunek and Andrew Roche