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Netanyahu talks Iran as protesters demand end to illegal settlements

Israeli PM attempts to shift focus of talks with Theresa May as hundreds protest against occupation of West Bank
Pro-Palestinian protesters are flanked by supporters of Israel at protests near 10 Downing Street (Reuters)

Benjamin Netanyahu has pressed Britain to act against a "militant Iran" bent on conquering the Middle East and destroying Israel, as he attempted to shift the focus of talks with Theresa May from illegal settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

The Israeli prime minister told his British counterpart on Monday that she should follow the lead of Donald Trump, the US president, who had imposed new sanctions on Iran after it test fired a ballistic missile late last month.

Iran seeks to annihilate Israel, it seeks to conquer the Middle East, it threatens Europe, it threatens the West, it threatens the world - Benjamin Netanyahu

His comments came as the two met in Downing Street, and as hundred of protesters lined nearby streets to demonstrate against the continued building of illegal settlements in the West Bank.

For a crowd of hundreds outside Downing Street, Iran was not the most pressing issue. Israel has approved thousands of new homes for illegal settlers on occupied Palestinian land since the inauguration of Trump in the US just over two weeks ago.

The Trump administration has shifted the US stance on the illegal activity - stating that existing settlements were not a barrier to peace between Israel and Palestine nor a hindrance to the "two state solution" .

Baroness Jenny Tonge told Middle East Eye that May should "take action against illegal settlements and Israeli human rights abuses towards Palestinians".

"Britain should ban all imports from Israeli settlements and to lobby the European Union to suspend any trade agreement it has with Israel till it complies with international law.

"We have really got to take action against the Israeli government as for far too long we have said Israel should abide international law... All these words take no notice and it is time we take action."

May and Netanyahu outside 10 Downing Street (Reuters)

'Iran seeks to annihilate Israel'

Netanyahu focused the talks on Iran, saying: "We face challenges, that's very clear, from militant Islam and especially from Iran.

"Iran seeks to annihilate Israel, it seeks to conquer the Middle East, it threatens Europe, it threatens the West, it threatens the world.

"And it offers provocation after provocation. That's why I welcome President Trump's assistance of new sanctions against Iran. I think other nations should follow suit, certainly responsible nations.

"And I'd like to talk to you about how we can ensure that Iran's aggression does not go unanswered."

May said the UK was a "strong and close friend of Israel" as she highlighted their co-operation in science, trade and security.

She said she believed there was "much more we can do" and that it was important to look at how "we can build that relationship".

"But also talking about some issues around the region, Syria and Iran and the whole question of the future of the Middle East," she added.

Armed police travel with Netanyahu's motorcade in London (Reuters)

Settlement protests

Back on the streets outside, pro-Palestinian protesters were met with opposition from pro-Israeli groups chanting "we must condemn terror".

"Israel has every right to build settlements," a pro-Israeli protestor told MEE. "The Palestinians benefit by the Israeli settlements as they gain employment and live in harmony."

Another pro-Israeli protester who wore a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan "there is no such thing as Palestine" told MEE that he came to welcome Netanyahu to Britain.

He defended the slogan on his t-shirt by declaring that "Israel is the rightful home for the Jewish people" and that Netanyahu was "a good man".

May was to tell Netanyahu that continued settlement activity undermines trust in the region, her spokeswoman said on Monday.

Israel has every right to build settlements. The Palestinians benefit... - pro-Israeli protester

"Of course I would expect the Middle East peace process to come up, and in that context the PM to reiterate our long-standing position... that we see the continued increase in settlement activity undermining trust," the spokeswoman told reporters.

"But also (to put forward) the very clear position that we have taken of needing to pursue a twin-track approach, recognising the right of Israel to live safe from terrorism."

Downing Street said last week that it did not expect the two leaders would discuss the recent plot of an Israeli embassy political officer, Shai Masot, to "take down" a senior member of the British government. The government has said it considers the matter "closed".

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, said that May must press Netanyahu on illegal settlements, and the "interference" of Masot.

"Theresa May must make it clear to the Israeli prime minister that the British government will stand unequivocally behind the rights of the Palestinian people along with many who support them in Israel, as well as human rights and justice across the region," he said.

"She must also demand an assurance that the improper interference by the Israeli embassy in British democratic politics will not be repeated."

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