oPt

Israel to build 692 homes in East Jerusalem

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Jerusalem_(dpa) _ Israel confirmed Monday that it is to build almost seven hundred new homes in Jewish sectors of occupied East Jerusalem, raising Palestinian ire, and risking that of its main patron, the United States.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to resume suspended Israeli-Palestinian peace talks without a complete Israeli halt to construction in its settlements and in East Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at first refused the demand, but in November announced a 109-month partial moratorium on settlement construction.

Some 198 homes will be built in Pisgat Ze'ev, 377 in Neve Yakov, and 117 in Har Homa. All three areas are located on land which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war and incorporated into the Jerusalem municipal boundaries.

"We make a distinction between the West Bank and Jerusalem," government spokesman David Baker told the German Press Agency dpa.

But chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Israeli move "further sabotaged international efforts to resume permanent status negotiations."

In a statement Erekat said he has asked the US to clarify its position on what he termed "Israel's obligation to freeze all settlement construction in line with its obligations under the 2003 Road Map peace plan, before meaningful negotiations could resume. "

"Every decision Israel takes to construct more illegal settlements makes a mockery of it's so called 'settlement moratorium'.

"If this is what Israel means by a settlement moratorium, then one can only wonder what Israel intends to do once that moratorium has expired," he said.

In announcing the 10-month partial construction moratorium, Netanyahu specifically excluded East Jerusalem from the freeze.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state. Israel says East and West Jerusalem form part of its united capital which will not be divided.

The announcement of the new East Jerusalem construction is part of a nationwide building plan for 6,500 housing units in 54 locations in Israel.

According to the Israeli Y-net news site, quoting "senior state officials," the Israeli government is deliberately issuing the tender during the Christmas holiday, during which American and European government officials, who oppose any Israeli building in occupied East Jerusalem, are on vacation.

The unnamed officials also said Israel informed the US in advance of its plans to build in East Jerusalem. The officials did not say how the US reacted to the plan, which contradicts stated US policy. dpa jab mt

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