Israel greets Kerry with new settler homes in Jerusalem
JERUSALEM - An Israeli planning committee on Wednesday granted final approval for the construction of 69 east Jerusalem settler homes, an official said, on the eve of a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry.
"The municipal committee has today given its final approval for the construction of 69 homes in Har Homa in east Jerusalem," councillor Meir Margalit said.
The approval was granted by the municipal planning committee just hours before Kerry touched down in Amman on his fifth visit to the region since February as he steps up efforts to draw Israel and the Palestinians back into direct negotiations.
"This a blind provocation against Kerry," said Margalit, who is a member of the leftwing Meretz party.
"It proves just how much the government of Bibi (Benjamin) Netanyahu wants peace," he retorted, using the nickname of the Israeli prime minister.
Har Homa is a settlement neighbourhood located in the southern sector of Arab east Jerusalem which was occupied by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War then annexed, in a move not recognised by the international community.
The contentious decision was likely to set tempers flaring a day before Kerry travels to Jerusalem for talks with Netanyahu.
He was expected to meet with Abbas in Amman on Friday.
Settlement construction was the issue which brought about a collapse of peace talks in September 2010 and the Palestinians say they will not return to negotiations while Israel builds on land they want for a future state.