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Middle east

Israel's new plan for 1,400 apartments in East Jerusalem sparks criticism

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-01-16

Israel says it is considering a new proposal to build 1,400 apartments in East Jerusalem. News of the project brought immediate criticism from the Israeli left and was condemned by the Palestinians.

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

"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.

Date created : 2011-01-16

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