World Briefs: Israeli settlement freeze rejected

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RAMALLAH, West Bank -- A senior Palestinian official on Sunday rejected the idea of a partial Israeli settlement freeze as a way of restarting peace talks.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met separately Saturday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to talk about ending a deadlock.

Mr. Abbas says he won't return to negotiations without an Israeli construction freeze, arguing that Israel's building on war-won land pre-empts the outcome of talks on a border between Israel and a future state of Palestine.

Mr. Netanyahu has refused to halt construction and instead calls for an immediate return to negotiations. President Barack Obama sided with Israel's position last week, saying the Palestinians should return to talks to sort out the settlement issue.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Sunday that the Palestinians do not seek a confrontation with the Obama administration but appeared to suggest that nothing short of a full freeze will bring them back to negotiations.

Asked if Mr. Abbas would accept a partial freeze, east of the barrier, Mr. Erekat told Voice of Palestine radio: "Absolutely not. It is rejected."

Israel-Syria cross-fire

JERUSALEM -- The Israeli military said it destroyed a machine-gun post in Syria on Sunday after two Israeli patrols came under fire from across the Israeli-Syrian cease-fire line in the Golan Heights.

This was the second cross-border episode of its kind in the past few months and it came two days after President Barack Obama helped patch up the broken relationship between Israel and Turkey, a move that Israeli officials said was largely born of the need to cooperate over the deteriorating situation in Syria.

After Sunday's episode, Israel's defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, warned in a statement that "any violation of Israeli sovereignty and fire from the Syrian side will be answered with the silencing of the source of fire."

The military said that on Saturday night an army jeep came under fire from the Syrian side. The vehicle was damaged but none of the passengers was injured. On Sunday morning, another military patrol came under fire, again escaping without injury.

Berezovsky death probed

LONDON -- There was no evidence to suggest anyone else was involved in the death of Boris Berezovsky, the self-exiled Russian tycoon who went from Kremlin kingmaker to fiery critic, British police said Sunday.

With an investigation under way, police are treating the death of Mr. Berezovsky -- who fled to Britain in the early 2000s after a bitter falling out with Russian President Vladimir Putin -- as unexplained. But the former oligarch survived assassination attempts and recently faced financial difficulties, prompting speculation as to whether his death was part of a conspiracy -- or suicide.

Police said Sunday it would be wrong to speculate on Mr. Berezovsky's cause of death pending the results of an autopsy, but said they had no evidence to suggest anyone else was involved.

Police released some details on the circumstances that triggered their investigation into his demise and a subsequent check for hazardous materials at a home he stayed at in Ascot, a town 25 miles west of London where Berezovsky's body was found on Saturday.

Peaceful Macedonia elections

SKOPJE, Macedonia -- Macedonians voted peacefully in local elections Sunday, boosting hopes the country has turned a page and that the political and ethnic violence that has marred previous vote cycles isn't repeated.

"No serious incident has been registered," said police spokesman Ivo Kotevski. "The voting process in general went smoothly, fair and free, without violence."

The small Balkan country hopes that free, transparent and peaceful local elections will help it strengthen its case for European Union membership.

Ethnic Macedonians form the controlling majority in 63 of the country's municipalities and ethnic minority Albanians control 16. Ethnic Turks and Serbs each have the controlling majority in one community.

There is a history of conflict between the ethnic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians.

The tensions almost resulted in civil war in 2001.

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