Israel has granted preliminary approval for 625 new homes in east Jerusalem, prompting an angry response from Palestinians on Thursday as peace talks remained stuck over settlement construction.
The plan for a new housing project received preliminary approval from a district planning committee, which published an announcement on November 25. Further approval is required, and if the plan is given final approval construction will not begin for about two years.
According to the announcement in the Maariv daily, the homes are part of a “residential neighbourhood” in Pisgat Zeev, a sprawling area of 50,000 residents. Israelis consider it a neighbourhood of their capital, while the Palestinians view it as a settlement.
The Palestinians have refused to resume peace talks with Israel without a full construction freeze that would include the West Bank and east Jerusalem, the part of the city they want for the capital of a future state. Israel, which sees all of Jerusalem as its own capital, has rejected that condition and has continued approving new projects there even as U.S. mediators try to revive the talks.
The leader of the Palestinian government in the West Bank, President Mahmoud Abbas, was to meet with U.S. officials on Thursday for an update on those efforts.
“It seems obvious that we have received the Israeli answer to the American attempts to stop settlements,” Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Thursday. Israel has chosen “settlements and not peace,” he said.
In the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by the militant Hamas group, Israeli soldiers killed two gunmen from the Islamic Jihad organization in an overnight clash along the Gaza-Israel border fence, the Israeli military said. Islamic Jihad did not immediately confirm the deaths.
Violence has dropped in Gaza since the end of Israel’s offensive in the territory in early 2009, but militant attacks on the border and sporadic rocket fire have continued.