5th April 2011 | Ma’an News AgencyJerusalem city council on Monday approved the construction of 942 new Jewish-only homes in Gilo settlement in occupied East Jersualem, a councillor told AFP.
Elisha Peleg, from the right-wing Likud party, confirmed that the new construction in Gilo, close to the West Bank city of Bethlehem, had been approved during an afternoon session of the district planning council.
“Of course we approved it, it is only the first step,” he told AFP, saying it was approved by five in favor and one against.
The municipality said this project was in addition to an earlier tranche of more than 900 new homes in Gilo approved in November 2009, which brought sharp condemnation from Washington which expressed “dismay” over the move.
The latest decision came a day ahead of a top-level meeting at the White House between Israeli President Shimon Peres and US President Barack Obama.
Gilo lies in occupied East Jerusalem, which Israel captured along with the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed in a move not recognized by the international community.
Israel considers both halves of the Holy City its “eternal, indivisible” capital, and does not view construction in the east to be settlement activity.
The Palestinians, however, want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state and fiercely contest any actions to extend Israel’s control over the sector.
The Palestinians condemned the move and said they would appeal to the international community to pressure Israel to respect international law.
“We strongly condemn the decision of the Jerusalem municipality to build 942 new homes in Gilo,” said chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat. “This decision proves once again that Israel has chosen settlements over peace.”
Some 180,000 Israelis live in East Jerusalem alongside nearly 270,000 Palestinians.
On Friday Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now said that an Israeli landowner was seeking to sell plots for 30 homes in another mainly Palestinian neighborhood of Jerusalem, where 117 settler families already live.
The international community has repeatedly called on Israel to avoid new building projects in East Jerusalem.
US-brokered peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are deadlocked over the issue of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.
The Palestinians walked out of direct peace talks three weeks after they started last September when Israel refused to extend a 10-month partial freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank.
They refuse to negotiate with Israel while it builds on land which would be a Palestinian state in a peace agreement.
In March 2010, the interior ministry announced a plan to build 1,600 Jewish-only homes in Ramat Shlomo in East Jerusalem.
The announcement, which came as US Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Israel, provoked fierce American opposition and soured relations with Washington for several months.