Netanyahu’s ‘no freeze’ stance clouds Mitchell visit

Israel’s prime minister on Thursday rejected U.S. calls to halt construction in disputed east Jerusalem, clouding a new peace mission by Washington’s Mideast envoy.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments were broadcast on Israel’s Channel 2 TV shortly after envoy George Mitchell arrived for his first visit in six weeks. Mitchell’s efforts had been on hold due to disagreements over east Jerusalem, the section of the holy city claimed by Israel and the Palestinians.

“I am saying one thing. There will be no freeze in Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said. “There should be no preconditions to talks.”

Although Netanyahu was repeating his long-standing position, the timing of the statement threatened to undermine Mitchell’s latest efforts to restart peace talks. Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman, denied earlier reports that Israel had officially rejected an American demand for a settlement freeze in Jerusalem.

In Washington, the State Department said the decision to send Mitchell was made late Wednesday after lower-level officials had meetings with Israeli and Palestinian representatives.

“We don’t go to meet just to meet. We go there because we have some indication that both sides are willing to engage seriously on the issues that are on the table,” said spokesman P.J. Crowley.

“We understand that the Israelis have a long-standing position,” he added. “But … the status quo is not sustainable.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico

Passenger detained on Africa-to-New York flight

U.S. authorities detained a passenger on an Africa-to-New York flight during a fuel stop in Puerto Rico on Thursday, officials said, without disclosing why the person was held or giving any details.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency issued a statement identifying the passenger only as a “potential person of interest,” who was removed from the Delta Air Lines flight for further questioning and remained in custody. Spokeswoman Jenny Burke declined to provide details.

There was no incident on board the plane, passengers were not in any danger and the flight continued to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport afterward, said Delta spokeswoman Susan Chana Elliott.


Group urges Saudi Arabia to free term-served inmates

An international human rights group has called on state prosecutors in Saudi Arabia to ensure that prison authorities release all inmates who have served out their sentences.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch says at least four prisoners in al-Hair prison south of Riyadh are still in custody a month to three months after having completed their sentences.

The group said in a statement released Thursday that the men from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Pakistan had complained the judge in their case did not give them a written verdict, but informed them orally of its content.


Clegg holds momentum after second election debate

A poll shows British third party leader Nick Clegg has maintained his momentum after the second of Britain’s three election debates.

The Liberal Democrat leader threw Britain’s election wide open after what was widely seen as a breakout performance in Britain’s first-ever televised debate last week.

A telephone poll immediately after the second debate shows that 2,691 viewers of Thursday night’s debate favored Clegg by a small margin.


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