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Page last updated at 18:29 GMT, Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Israel under pressure over East Jerusalem homes

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish man in East Jerusalem
Israel considers East Jerusalem as its territory

Israel is coming under growing international pressure following its approval of new housing for Israelis in occupied East Jerusalem.

Britain, France, the EU and the Arab League have all added their protests against the decision.

The housing row has overshadowed a visit by US Vice-President Joe Biden which is meant to promote a new round of US-led negotiations.

He has condemned the move, saying it undermined trust in the peace process.

Israel and the Palestinians had agreed to hold indirect "proximity talks" in a bid to restart the process, which has been stalled for 17 months.

But earlier this week it approved 1,600 new homes for ultra-Orthodox Jews in East Jerusalem.

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

Israel regards East Jerusalem - which it annexed in 1967 - as its territory, but Palestinians want it as the capital of their future state.

'Ill-timed'

UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband described the Israeli move as "a bad decision at the wrong time".

"It will give strength to those who argue that Israel is not serious about peace," he said.

"Along with our EU partners, I condemn it as certain to undermine the mutual confidence we need."

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said the decision was "completely ill-timed".

Joe Biden and Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah (10 March 2010)
Mr Biden met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank

"It is moreover illegal in terms of international law," he said.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the Israeli decision constituted "an obstacle to peace" and threatened to make a two-state solution impossible.

"Israel should reverse this decision," she said.

Officials from Arab states are due to discuss the issue on Wednesday with Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa, who harshly condemned the Israeli move.

"The insult has reached a point that not a single Arab could accept," Mr Moussa said.

"Israel does not care about anybody, neither the mediator, nor the Palestinians."

Mr Biden earlier met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.

"Yesterday, the decision by the Israeli government to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem undermines that very trust - the trust that we need right now in order to begin as well as produce profitable negotiations," he said.

Israel has insisted the decision had nothing to do with Mr Biden's visit.



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