Elders of Peace: Israel Must Freeze West Bank Settlements

Shas Spiritual leader asks group of dignitaries to aid efforts to return captive IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.

A pro-peace organization comprising veteran world leaders and international dignitaries on Wednesday urged Israel to stop expanding its West Bank settlements in order to allow the peace process to move forward.

Former Irish President Mary Robinson, a member of the group now visiting Israel, said that a settlement freeze was essential if there is to be real progress toward peace.

The Elders Group is a pro-peace organization established by former South African president Nelson Mandela, ahead of his 89th birthday, and includes Nobel Peace laureates Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

During their four-day visit to Israel and the West Bank, they have met with politicians, civic groups and young people.

Robinson spoke in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

The group met Wednesday with President Shimon Peres, also a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

On Tuesday Army Radio reported that Shas spiritual leader Ovadia Yosef told the Elders that the world is inciting against Jews.

Yosef reportedly asked former U.S. president Carter to help ensure the return of Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been in Palestinian captivity since abducted by militants in a 2006 cross-border raid.

It aims to engage the experience and prestige of celebrated global leaders to recruit popular support for peace building, and for dealing with humanitarian problems in crisis areas.

Carter has become of late a regular visitor to Jerusalem and Ramallah. The last time Tutu came to the region, he protested from Gaza Strip that he was not allowed to break the siege and pass from there into Israel.