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JERUSALEM (AP) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that discussions with the U.S. on his plan to annex occupied West Bank territory would continue “in the coming days,” indicating he would miss a July 1 target date for beginning the controversial process.

Netanyahu made the comments shortly after wrapping up talks with White House envoy Avi Berkowitz and the U.

S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. The sides have been holding talks for several months on finalizing a map spelling out which areas of the West Bank will be annexed by Israel.

“I spoke about the question of sovereignty, which we are working on these days and we will continue to work on in the coming days,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu has been eager to begin annexing West Bank territory in line with President Donald Trump’s Mideast plan. The plan, unveiled in January, envisions turning over some 30% of the territory under permanent Israeli control, while giving the Palestinians autonomy in the remaining land.

But the plan to redraw the Mideast map has come under fierce international criticism. The U.N. secretary-general, the European Union and key Arab countries have all said Israeli annexation would violate international law and undermine the goal of establishing a viable independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. The Palestinians, who seek all of the West Bank as part of a future state, have rejected the Trump plan.

Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war. The international community considers the territory to be occupied, and for Israel’s more than 120 settlements to be illegal.

But Trump has taken a far more conciliatory line than his Republican and Democratic predecessors. Netanyahu, a close ally of Trump, has said Israel must take advantage of what he calls a “historic opportunity,” and is eager to move forward before the November presidential election.

Netanyahu says his goal of annexing all the settlements, as well as the strategic Jordan Valley, is necessary to protect Israeli security. He also has defended it in religious terms, saying the territories are part of the biblical Land of Israel.

Besides international opposition, Netanyahu has encountered some resistance from his governing partner, Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

The coalition agreement for their new government, which took office in May, gives Netanyahu the authority to present an annexation proposal after Wednesday. But U.S. officials have said they do not want to move forward with a plan unless the two leaders are in agreement.

Gantz, who also holds the title of alternate prime minister, said Monday that the July 1 target date was not “sacred.” He also said that annexation “will wait” while the government grapples with Israel’s health and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus.

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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Families of US Troops Slain in Jordan Seek Action

By MATTHEW LEE, AP Diplomatic Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — The families of three Special Forces troops slain by a Jordanian soldier at a military base in Jordan in 2016 are calling on Congress to suspend aid to the key U.S. Mideast partner until it extradites the killer.

The families are also joining an effort to press Jordan to extradite a woman convicted in Israel of a 2001 bombing that killed 15 people, including two Americans. In letters sent to lawmakers this week, the families say assistance to Jordan should be cut until Jordan addresses the cases.

The soldier, Marek al-Tuwayha, has already been convicted in Jordan and is serving life in prison for the murders, but the families say the sentence is inadequate because he will likely be released after 20 years. The woman convicted of the deadly attack on a pizzeria in Israel, Ahlam Aref Ahmad al-Tamimi, has lived freely in Jordan since she was released in a 2011 prisoner swap.

In their appeals to lawmakers, the families of the U.S. soldiers, Matthew Lewellen, of Missouri, Kevin McEnroe, of Arizona, and James Moriarty, of Texas, said Congress should withhold or reduce foreign aid to Jordan unless both cases are resolved.

The king of Jordan “should publicly apologize for the murders of their sons and explain why his country harbors a terrorist that killed Americans in the pizzeria bombing,” they said in a statement.

Jordan has rebuffed previous efforts to extradite al-Tamimi, citing double jeopardy considerations, but the Trump administration said recently it would consider withholding assistance as leverage to get Jordan to act on the matter and Jordan's King Abdullah II has been told of the possibility, according to congressional aides.

“We support (al-Tamimi’s) extradition, along with a U.S. prosecution of the murderer of our sons," said Moriarty’s father, James. “We also hope all of the families of Americans killed by Jordanians finally get some measure of justice. King Abdullah should remember this: We will not stop until we do.”

Al-Tuwayha is still in prison, and there are no known plans to release him. He has never apologized for the shooting at the King Faisal Air Base in November 2016, and his lawyer said there are no updates on the case. The lawyer, Subhi al-Mawwas, repeated al-Tuwayha’s claim in court that he opened fire because he thought the base was being attacked.

The U.S. has long been a major provider of aid to Jordan and, in early 2018, the administration signed a five-year, $6.4 billion aid agreement with the country that increased the annual amount of aid by $275 million to $1.3 billion.

Al-Tamimi is wanted by the U.S. on a charge of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against American nationals. The charge was filed under seal in 2013 and announced by the Justice Department four years later.

She was arrested by Israel weeks after the bombing and sentenced to 16 life terms but released in the 2011 Israel-Hamas prisoner swap and moved to Jordan. She has made frequent media appearances, expressing no remorse for the attack and saying she was pleased with the high death toll.

Among the victims of the attack was Malka Roth, a 15-year-old Israeli American girl, whose father, Arnold Roth, has led a campaign seeking al-Tamimi’s extradition.

___

Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan, contributed.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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