Ma'an News Agency
November 25, 2009 - 1:00am

US officials, some of them aides to special envoy George Mitchell, have been visiting illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank as a part of an investigation, the Israeli daily Ma’ariv reported on Wednesday.

In the first such visit on Monday, officials from the US consulate in Jerusalem and Mitchell’s team visited the settlement of Efrat, southwest of Bethlehem, the newspaper said. The officials were reportedly comparing the boundaries and number of buildings in the settlement with earlier maps to see whether settlements are expanding.

The officials met with head of the Efrat Regional Council, Oded Ravivi, and other settler leaders.

Mitchell has been at the forefront of Obama’s unsuccessful effort to convince Israel to stop expanding settlements as a step toward resuming peace negotiations. President Mahmoud Abbas has said he will refuse to resume talks unless Israel complies with its prior obligations to halt construction.

Last Wednesday Obama himself criticized an Israeli decision to expand the settlement of Gilo, on Bethlehem’s northern side, inside what Israel considers annexed territory.

"I think that additional settlement building does not contribute to Israel's security, I think it makes it harder for them to make peace with their neighbors," Obama told Fox News.

"I think it embitters the Palestinians in a way that could end up being very dangerous," he added, stopping short of threatening action to stop the expansion.


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