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Israel is set to approve 1,400 new homes in an east Jerusalem settlement, media reports and the local council said

Fresh Israeli defiance of the international community

Israel to approve 1,400 new illegal settlement units in occupied Palestinian east Jerusalem.

 

By Marius Schattner - JERUSALEM

 Sunday, defying global pressure to halt settlement building that stalled peace talks.

The massive construction project will add new homes to the settlement of Gilo, near Bethlehem, and is expected to receive final approval from the district planning commission in coming days.

The project is likely to spark condemnation from the international community, which has repeatedly called on Israel to avoid new building projects in annexed Arab east Jerusalem.

A Jerusalem's municipal council statement confirmed the project, but said it was part of a long-standing policy to expand housing availability for the city's Jewish and Arab residents.

"There has been no change in the policy towards construction in Jerusalem for the last 40 years," the statement said. "The Jerusalem municipality continues to promote both Jewish and Arab construction in the city."

The project garnered immediate criticism from leftwing politicians and activists, and was condemned by the Palestinians.

"We strongly condemn this Israeli escalation and continued decisions in the area of settlements and the imposition of new facts on the ground," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said.

"I think it is the time for the US administration to officially hold the Israeli government responsible for the collapse of the peace process."

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have deadlocked over the issue of Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.

The Palestinians have refused to negotiate with Israel while it builds on land they want for their future state, but Israel has insisted on continuing settlement construction.

Yariv Oppenheimer, secretary-general of Peace Now, an NGO opposed to settlement building, said he was "deeply concerned" by the planned project.

"Not only will it damage the chances of reaching an agreement on the Jerusalem issue, it might also create an international problem for Israel in its legitimacy abroad," he told AFP.

Elisha Peleg, a municipal council member from the rightwing Likud party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, praised the project.

"Gilo is an integral part of Jerusalem. There can be no argument in Israel over construction in that neighbourhood," he told Israeli radio.

The project, planned by private firms, could take close to four years to complete because of the difficulties of building on the steep slopes on the outskirts of the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

In March 2010, Israeli Interior Ministry announced a plan to build 1,600 homes in Ramat Shlomo, an Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood in east Jerusalem.

The announcement, which came as US Vice President Joe Biden visited Israel, provoked fierce US opposition, and soured relations between Israel and Washington for months.

Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move the rest of the world never recognised. The Jewish state considers the whole of Jerusalem to be its "eternal and indivisible" capital.

The Palestinians regard east Jerusalem as the capital of their promised state and fiercely oppose any attempts to extend Israeli control over it.

Since 1967, Israel has built several Jewish settlements in the eastern part of Jerusalem, with Gilo among the first of to be constructed.

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