Barak Ravid
November 16, 2008 - 8:00pm

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Sunday told her visiting British counterpart, David Miliband, that the U.K. was taking an "exaggerated" stance in its initiative to distinctly label produce imported from the West Bank.

Miliband arrived in Israel on Sunday, where he met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Livni, for a two-day visit aimed at advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

A senior official in Jerusalem described the talks as "not simple," and said that in addition to dissonance over the state of settlements, the two also butted heads on the issues of Syria and the indictment being handed by Britain to Israeli defense officials.

During their meeting, Livni also told Miliband that she expected the international community to support Israel as it attempted to quell militant fire from the Gaza Strip.

"Israel can not just watch its citizens being attacked," said Livni. "The international community can not turn a blind-eye."

Miliband, meanwhile, said he planned to show his solidarity with residents of the southern town of Sderot, where where most of the rockets fired from Gaza in recent days have struck, during his visit there on Monday.

"I very much look forward to be showing my solidarity with them on my visit there," Miliband said.

Miliband was expected during his visit to express strong opposition to settlement in the West Bank and to press European partners for tighter control of imports to the European Union from the settlements.

Some of these imports are admitted at European ports as the produce of Israel and therefore enjoy tariff benefits under an Israel-EU treaty, British officials said.

Miliband was also to urge Syria, where he was also to visit on this trip, to tie up peace talks with Jerusalem.

The British foreign minster also has meetings scheduled in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, his office said.

""We know of the British concern referring to this matter," Foreign
Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said regarding imports from settlements. "We have been involved for some time now in dialogue with our British counterparts in order to find a way to solve this issue."

British Embassy spokeswoman Karen Kaufman clarified Miliband's plans. "The foreign secretary made it clear that Britain is not trying to shift the goal posts on this issue but is following up on representations made to us about the workings of the system," she said, as Miliband began a meeting with Livni.

European diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity as a fresh economic offensive on the West Bank settlements has not been officially approved, said Miliband has been trying to muster support in Brussels for tougher implementation of existing customs regulations in the hope that settlements, a core issue in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, could be placed under a siege that could help hasten their dismantlement.

Before departing for the region, the Foreign Secretary said: "My visit to Israel will allow me to listen to all of Israel's political leaders at this important time.

"I will also reinforce the U.K.'s support for the Annapolis Peace Process and a viable two-state solution when I meet Israeli and Palestinian representatives."

He was set to meet outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister and Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi Livni on Sunday afternoon.

Miliband's arrival came as relations between Israel and Britain were strained over Downing Street's intention to label products manufactured in West Bank settlements.

He will later travel from Israel to Lebanon and Syria.


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