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Arab League warns of ‘religious war’ in Middle East

UNITED NATIONS — The head of the Arab League warned a high-level U.N. meeting Wednesday that Israel’s annexation of parts of the West Bank would inflame tensions and endanger peace in the Middle East, and could ignite “a religious war in and beyond our region.”

Ahmed Aboul Gheit, secretary-general of the 22-member organization, said annexation will also have “broader ramifications on the international security around the world.”

“If implemented, Israeli annexation plans would not only be detrimental to the chances of peace today but will destroy any prospects for peace in the future,” he told the Security Council. “Palestinians will lose faith in a negotiated solution, I’m afraid Arabs, too, will lose interest in regional peace. A new, dark reality will set in vis a vis this conflict and in the region at large.”

The council meeting came days ahead of the July 1 date that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition deal allows an annexation plan to be presented.

Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war and has built dozens of settlements that are now home to nearly 500,000 Israelis, but it never formally claimed it as an Israeli territory due to stiff international opposition.

Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Danny Danon told the council that “should Israel decide to extend its sovereignty, it would be doing so with respect to areas over which it has always maintained a legitimate historical and legal claim.”

The Palestinians, with wide international backing, seek the West Bank as the heartland of their future independent state. Most of the international community considers Israel’s West Bank settlements illegal under international law.

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