Page last updated at 14:09 GMT, Friday, 26 February 2010

Israeli authorities back 600 new East Jerusalem homes

Pisgat Zeev
Israel sees no distinction between East and West Jerusalem

An Israeli planning committee has pushed forward plans for 600 new homes in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem.

The move comes as the Palestinians are refusing to restart peace talks unless Israel stops all building in the area, where they want their future capital.

The plan will expand the Pisgat Zeev settlement in the city's north-east.

The international community considers East Jerusalem occupied territory. Building on occupied land is illegal under international law.

Palestinians regard Pisgat Zeev and neighbourhoods like it as settlements, and accuse Israel of using them to increase the Jewish presence in the mainly Arab east of the city.

But Israelis see them simply as suburbs of Jerusalem.

On Friday it emerged that an Israeli regional planning committee had voted last month to push the scheme forward.

It approved the plan for publication, after which the public can raise objections during a designated period.

Actual building work would be unlikely to begin for at least one or two years.

The record of the committee's meeting said the project had been reduced from 1,100 housing units to 600, because of land ownership issues.

'Another violation'

The Palestinians have demanded that Israel halt all settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem before they will rejoin peace talks with Israel.

Jerusalem Old City, from East Jerusalem, silwan

Israel has announced a 10-month period of restrictions on building in the West Bank, but not East Jerusalem.

Palestinian official Ghassan al-Khatib denounced the decision as "another Israeli violation of international law", according to Reuters news agency.

Hagit Ofran of the Israeli rights group Peace Now said the Israeli government was continuing to promote building plans in East Jerusalem "in order to torpedo the two-state solution".

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said the government made a distinction between the West Bank and Jerusalem.

"In the West Bank, we've agreed to unprecedented restrictions on growth but Jerusalem is different, it's our capital," he said.

Israel captured the east of the city during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, during which it occupied the West Bank.

It later annexed East Jerusalem, in a move not recognised by the international community.

The US and United Nations both warned that a similar decision last year, to push forward the building of 900 homes in Gilo to the south of Jerusalem, would hamper peace efforts.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said at the time the US was "dismayed" by the move.

The Jerusalem municipality could not be reached for comment.

But last year, after the similar approval for building at Gilo, it said that both Jews and Arabs would be able to buy the new properties.

Nearly 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built on occupied territory in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

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