The Yesha Council of settlements has broken off talks with the Defense Ministry, which it said on Thursday is blocking construction in West Bank settlements to increase pressure on residents to leave dozens of illegal outposts.

Defense Ministry sources confirmed the freeze on building in the West Bank, but a spokesman for Barak declined to comment.

The council and the the Defense Ministry had been holding negotiations over an agreement that would have required them to peacefully withdraw from the outposts.

"From reports that we received from Yesha's local council heads," wrote Yesha leaders Danny Dayan and Ze'ev Hever to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, "you are carrying out a clear policy to freeze all construction and marketing processes all across Judea and Samaria," a reference to the biblical name for the West Bank.

"This is being done to pressure us in talks on the outposts. We cannot under any circumstances accept this kind of management of negotiations, which makes use of means of extortion," the letter continues.

"We hope that the defense minister will take the necessary steps which will allow talks to get back on track," Yesha spokesman Yishai Hollander said.

The group accused Barak of holding up new construction and new tenders in order to pressure outpost residents to quit.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is pushing the United States to pressure Israel to halt settlement expansion in the West Bank, which Palestinians want for a future state.

"We hope that the coming weeks will be fruitful, hoping that Israel will stop their settlement activities," Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rdainah said.