Israel to go ahead with housing project in East Jerusalem
( dpa ) - Israel will build new housing units in an East Jerusalem settlement, government officials said Sunday, prompting condemnation from the Palestinians.
An Israeli Housing Ministry official said the plans to build hundreds of new units in the Givaat Zeev settlement began in 1999, but were put on hold a year later following the outbreak of violence in the region.
He said the construction of some 200 units was almost completed and now work on another 350 would begin.
"After these are built and sold, we will hopefully construct another 200 units," he said, bringing the number to about 750.
Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office, said the settlement would be part of the Jewish State even after a peace deal is reached with the Palestinians.
"It is consistent with what we've always said, that building within the large settlement blocs will continue," he said.
The announcement drew a harsh response from Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who said it was "outrageous."
"This is a provocative action by Israel that demonstrates its intention of further strengthening its illegal occupation and colonization of Palestinian territory," he said in a statement.
He noted that the announcement came less than a week after a visit to the region by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and before a planned meeting later this week between Israel, the Palestinians and US Lieutenant General William Fraser who was appointed to monitor President George W Bush's "road map" peace plan.
The plan, in its initial stages, calls for an end to Israeli settlement construction and for the Palestinian Authority to crack down on militants.
Israel annexed East Jerusalem after capturing it during the 1967 Mideast War, but Palestinians see it as their future capital.