[10:59 p.m.] United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited the West Bank and Jerusalem on Saturday and called for an immediate end to Israeli settlement building. There was no immediate reaction from the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
"All settlement activity is illegal anywhere in occupied territory and it must stop," he told reporters in Ramallah.
He called for those involved to make progress toward forging a lasting peace, saying plans for diplomatic discussion between the Israelis and Palestinians through intermediaries are "important," but do not obviate the need for direct negotiations.
"It's high time now that Palestinians and Israelis should be able to live side by side in peace and security," he said. "They can be good partners in working together to achieve peace."
[10:21 a.m.] United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in the West Bank on Saturday as part of a two-day visit to Palestinian territories and Israel amid concerns about Israel's recent announcement to construct settlements in disputed territory.
Ban met with Palestinian Prime Minister SalamÂ FayyadÂ in Ramallah and said the Middle East Quartet - the United Nations, European Union, United States and Russia - "strongly supports" Palestinian efforts to create their own state. Ban said Friday that the group condemns Israel's plans to construction of 1,600 new housing units on territory in East Jerusalem that is claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians.
Meanwhile, the U.S. special envoy for Middle East peace is returning to the region this weekend as the United States continues its discussions with Israel over the Obama administration's demand that the country reverse its decision on its construction plans.
Ambassador George Mitchell is expected in Jerusalem on Sunday. Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has suggested "mutual confidence-building measures" between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, according to his office. Netanyahu's response has been unanimously backed and approved by the seven ministers of Israel's inner cabinet.
Officials in Washington and Jerusalem says Netanyahu will be in Washington on Monday for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference.
An Israeli official said the gestures the Israelis could take include easing some roadblocks and releasing some Palestinian prisoners - measures Israel said it was prepared to take before the announcement of the East Jerusalem settlement project. Israel came under fire earlier this month when it announced the construction plans during U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel.