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Italian PM calls for end to West Bank building

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ROME (JTA) — Italy’s prime minister called on Israel to stop building settlements and to return the Golan Heights to Syria as part of a global peace settlement for the Middle East.

Silvio Berlusconi , considered one of Israel’s strongest allies, made his remarks Saturday during the Arab League summit in Sirte, Libya, which he attended as an observer at the invitation of Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gadhafi.

In a speech to the league, Berlusconi said he had reiterated to Israel that its recent decisions to build in eastern Jerusalem "are counterproductive and may seriously compromise the possibility of reviving dialogue."

Berlusconi added that he hoped that Israel would heed "the voices of friends, such as Italy and the United States."

Berlusconi said he had great faith in "the commitment of President Obama and his administration" to reactivate the peace process in the Middle East. He called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take "concrete and positive steps" to better the living conditions of Palestinians.

He said Italy hoped for a "comprehensive peace" that also would include the solution of the conflict with Lebanon and Syria, and "would also foresee the return of the Golan Heights to Syria."

On Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI referred to the recent unrest in eastern Jerusalem over planed construction in both Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. 

"I am deeply saddened by the recent clashes and tensions that have arisen once again in this city that is the spiritual home of Christians, Jews and Muslims," Benedict said.

The pope called on "those responsible for the fate of Jerusalem to take the path of peace with courage and to follow it with perseverance."

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