JERUSALEM: Israeli authorities yesterday said they are moving ahead with a new proposal to build 1,400 apartments in east Jerusalem, enraging Palestinians who denounced the plan as another settler land grab.
Palestinians have already broken off peace talks with Israel for refusing to halt construction in east Jerusalem and the West Bank. They claim these areas, which Israel captured in 1967, and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip for a future state.
Jerusalem officials confirmed they were aware of the plan, but would not say when the city's planning committee would vote on it.
"Jerusalem City Hall continues to advance construction for Arabs and Jews alike according to the master plan," the spokesman's office said. "New construction in Jerusalem is necessary to the development of the city."
The international community has never recognised the annexation, and considers Israeli housing developments in east Jerusalem to be illegal settlements. The Palestinians hope to make east Jerusalem their capital.
The latest plan, to build 1,400 apartments in the existing Jewish area of Gilo, is being promoted by the Jerusalem Development Authority, a joint corporation of the Israeli government and the Jerusalem municipality.
Gilo is a sprawling development of some 40,000 people on Jerusalem's southern edge, built on lands captured in 1967.
Although construction would likely not begin for years, the Palestinians said the new plan undermined hopes for peace.
"This proves our point that the Israeli government has chosen settlements and not peace," said senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat.
He urged the US "to hold the Israeli government fully responsible" for the breakdown in peace talks and to support an upcoming Palestinian initiative to get a UN Security Council condemnation of Israeli settlement construction.
Word of the plan also elicited a new round of US condemnation. "We find unilateral actions of this sort to be counterproductive in efforts to get sides to negotiate on the core issues," US Embassy spokesman Kurt Hoyer said.