Israel approves 900 East Jerusalem settlement homes
JERUSALEM - Israel's interior ministry has given final approval for the construction of 900 new homes in the east Jerusalem settlement neighbourhood of Har Homa, a ministry spokeswoman said on Thursday.
"This is a programme which was approved by the regional (planning and construction) committee two years ago," spokeswoman Efrat Orbach said.
"According to the planning process in Israel, (it) needed the completion of amendments, therefore it was finally approved today."
The approval marks the final planning stage for a project that has garnered fierce criticism from the Palestinians and the international community.
It will significantly expand the hilltop neighbourhood, which lies in Jerusalem's southwest and is defined as being within the municipal boundaries despite lying directly next to the Palestinian West Bank town of Bethlehem.
Hagit Ofran, who monitors settlement activity for the Israeli group Peace Now, described the final approval of the project as "a very dramatic development" because of where the new housing will be located.
"It adds a new ridge to Har Homa which blocks the territorial contiguity between east Jerusalem and Bethlehem and adds a further barrier to the possibility of east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital in a two-state solution," she said.