CHIEF Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that the Americans will respond to a Palestinian demand that Washington guarantee Israel’s commitment to the ‘peace’ process, particularly with regards to settlement construction.

He added: ‘‘We’ve made our position on this matter clear.’

Addressing doubts expressed by senior Israeli officials regarding the chances of successful talks, Erekat said, ‘This attitude surprises me. It dooms the talks to failure before they have even begun. I believe Israel will make every effort to hinder the negotiations.

‘We want Mitchell, US President Barack Obama and the entire world to know what our demands are – a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital and a halt to settlement construction,’ Erekat said.

‘We expect Israel to choose the path of negotiations rather than the path of settlements,’ he said.

Meanwhile, a Hamas movement statement urged the Palestinian Authority not to approve the resumption of talks with Israel, saying that such a move would only legitimise Israel’s occupation.

The statement rejected continued talks with Israel, saying that, what it calls the ‘absurd proximity talks’ would only ‘give the Israeli occupation an umbrella to commit more crimes against the Palestinians.

‘Hamas calls on the PLO to stop selling illusions to the Palestinian people and to announce the failure of their gambling on absurd talks.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine group also rejects the proximity talks, saying those talks would be ‘ill advised and absurd, no matter if they are direct or indirect’.

Mitchell arrived earlier this week in the occupied territories, and has already held two days of talks with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu.

The leaders of Turkey and Syria urged on Saturday for a diplomatic solution to the tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme and accused Israel of hampering peace efforts in the Middle East.

The dispute between Iran and Western powers should be ‘resolved without being protracted further, through diplomatic means’, Turkish President Abdullah Gul told a joint news conference with visiting Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad.

The Syrian leader lent support to recently intensified Turkish efforts to help resolve the standoff, among them a proposal to host renewed talks between Iranian and Western officials, revealed Friday.

‘We would like Turkey to keep up its positive role,’ Assad said through an interpreter.

The two leaders said they discussed also the situation in the Middle East, denouncing controversial Israeli plans to build fresh settler homes in occupied Jerusalem. ‘This is a very dangerous trend,’ Gul said, adding that the expansion of Israeli settlements might lead ‘to things getting out of control.’

Assad stressed, meanwhile, that the Israeli enemy is not ready for peace with Damascus. ‘I do not think conditions are ripe for successful Turkish mediation, because Israel doesn’t appear to be ready for peace,’ Assad said during the Ankara press conference.

Addressing a question about the possibility of an Israeli-Syrian military clash, Assad said: ‘If there is even a one per cent chance of war breaking out, we are working to prevent it.’

Assad was scheduled to wrap up his This morning.

Meanwhile, Israel is continuing to steal water from Syria and is blocking Palestinian access to water resources, according to a National Geographic photo exhibit in Los Angeles.

The caption under one of the photos at the exhibition reads, ‘Israelis relax by the Sea of Galilee, a lake near the Golan Heights that is fed by the Jordan River and that supplies a third of Israel’s fresh water. Since 1967, Israel has blocked Syria’s access to the shoreline.’

The caption under another photo reads, ‘At a water park in Tiberias, Israelis bask in the resource’s relative abundance. A 2009 World Bank report said Israelis use four times as much water per capita as Palestinians. Israel has disputed this, saying its citizens use only twice as much.’

The exhibit also features a photo of a Palestinian woman drawing water from a well. The caption reads, ‘A source of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, water is emblematic of their unequal relationship. During dry summers, West Bank Palestinians—restricted to shallow wells by Israel’s occupation—have to buy groundwater tapped from beneath them.’

Israeli Consul General in Los Angeles Jacob Dayan sent a letter of complaint to the owners of the Annenberg Space for Photography, saying ‘The venue is being used as a political tool to spread lies about Israel’s part in the global effort to provide clean and fresh drinking water.’

The diplomat claimed that the exhibit falsely depicts Israel as a country that steals water while its neighbors suffer from a drought. The opposite is true, wrote the consul general.

l A former Yale professor was among the four detained by Israeli occupation forces during protests against the construction of the separation wall in Al-Walaja last Thursday morning.

Witnesses said three others were lightly injured by Israeli border police, who used clubs and mace against protesters, in what witnesses said was a violent removal of the protesters from their positions around Israeli military bulldozers.

An Israeli police spokesman confirmed that four were detained at the rally, adding that all were released a few hours after their detention.

The group of protesters marched to the site of construction and sat amidst the bulldozers, refusing to leave when Israeli occupation officers demanded they disperse.

Those injured were identified by witnesses as Mahmud Al-Araj, 27, and brothers Ahmad and Mahmud Mustafa Al-Araj, 23 and 25. All three were taken to the Beit Jala Hospital for treatment, where medics described their injuries as mild.

Three of those detained were identified as brothers Diya and Hasan Hamdan, and Dr Mazen Qumsiyeh, all allegedly released.

‘Almost every day they attempt to halt construction,’ the Israeli border police spokesman said, commenting on the conditions of the Al-Walaha protests. ‘They come close to the border police,’ he said, ‘and they throw stones.’

Photojournalists and reporters at the scene said they did not witnesses stone throwing, noting protesters gather in the village centre, and march toward the construction site.

The gathering stops around the bulldozers digging up land in preparation for the wall, witnesses explained, and sit around the machines refusing to let them pass.

‘That’s where the detentions took place today,’ one organiser said, adding ‘I’ve been to the protests several times and never witnessed stone throwing.’

A reliable observer was quoted as saying ‘no stones were thrown whatsoever, not a single one,’ regarding Thursday’s protest.

‘If protesters act violently we have the right to use the spray,’ the occupation police spokesman said.

‘The contact is very close.’