Speedy settlement expansion: Israel approves 130 homes in east Jerusalem
JERUSALEM – Jerusalem municipality on Wednesday approved plans for another 130 housing units in Gilo, a settlement neighbourhood in the annexed eastern sector of the Holy City, a city councillor said.
Pepe Alalu of the left-wing Meretz party said the district planning committee had given the green light to a project to build 130 homes in three 12-storey tower blocks on the eastern outskirts of Gilo which lies just a few kilometres (miles) north of Bethlehem.
"An agreement has been reached for construction of 130 apartments in three towers of 12 storeys each," he said, saying it was the second stage of approval meaning construction was likely to begin "in about three years."
The Gilo project received initial approval in November last year, in a move which the Palestinians said was an attempt to further isolate Bethlehem from east Jerusalem.
On November 1, Israel's inner cabinet decided to speed up construction of homes for Jews in Arab east Jerusalem and in other nearby settlements to punish the Palestinians for winning membership in the UN cultural agency, UNESCO.
Since then, Israel has issued announcements for 2,057 new homes in Arab east Jerusalem and 1,241 in the West Bank, official figures show.
Israel's settlement building is one of the most intractable disputes of the conflict with the Palestinians and has frequently floored efforts to broker a peaceful solution.
Direct talks broke down in autumn 2010 after Israel failed to extended a temporary freeze on new West Bank construction with the Palestinians refusing to talk unless they renewed it and also extended the ban to east Jerusalem.
More than 310,000 Israelis live in settlements in the occupied West Bank, and the number is constantly growing.
Another 200,000 live in a dozen settlement neighbourhoods in east Jerusalem, which was captured by Israel in 1967 and annexed in a move never recognised internationally.
The international community considers all settlements in territories occupied by Israel since June 1967 to be illegal, whether or not approved by its government.