U.S. 'extremely troubled' by Israeli move to lift ban on return to West Bank settlements

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Washington is "extremely troubled" by a move by the Israeli parliament that paves the way for Jewish settlers to return to four West Bank settlements, State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said on Tuesday.

Patel said the amendment of a 2005 law that ordered the settlements' evacuation was "particularly provocative and counterproductive" to efforts to restore calm in Israel and the West Bank ahead of the Ramadan, Passover and Easter holidays.

The move came just two days after Israel reaffirmed a pledge to pause discussion of new settlements and authorizations of outposts, Patel said, a reference to a joint statement between Israeli and Palestinian officials following talks in Egypt.

"The U.S. strongly urges Israel to refrain from allowing the return of settlers to the area covered by the legislation, consistent with both former Prime Minister (Ariel) Sharon and the current Israeli government's commitment to the United States," Patel said.

"We have been clear that advancing settlements is an obstacle to peace and the achievement of a two-state solution."

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Rami Ayyub and Simon Lewis; Editing by Sandra Maler)