Israel approves new settlements in east Jerusalem for the first time in 12 years

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An Israeli committee approved plans for constructing 2,610 new homes in a settlement east Jerusalem on Wednesday, despite international outcry over continued building.

The United Nations released a statement calling on Israel to cancel plans to build thousands of new settler homes in the occupied Palestinian territories, warning it could be “an almost fatal blow” to peace hopes.

U.N. leader Ban Ki-moon’s political chief also told the U.N. Security Council that Israel must resume the transfer of frozen tax and customs money to the struggling Palestinian Authority “without delay.”

City Councilman Pepe Alalu told the Associated Press that a municipal committee had approved building housing units in Givat Hamatos on Wednesday, the first new east Jerusalem settlement to be built since 12 years.

“I just spoke with the deputy mayor and they told me the 2,610 units have been approved,” said Danny Seidemann, head of Terrestrial Jerusalem, told AFP.

Until now, there has been no construction at the site, which is located on the southern flank of east Jerusalem close to Bethlehem.

Terrestrial Jerusalem had on Tuesday flagged up the meeting and said if the committee approved the plans it would be the final stage of a long approval process with construction likely to start “within a matter of weeks or a few months.”

Lior Amihai, of the Settlement Watch project at the Peace Now group, told AFP the approval was final.

“Officially this is the final decision. There are no more committees for it to go to... It will be published in the coming days and then there’s a 15-day period until it becomes valid and they can start issuing tenders,” he said.

Building in Givat HaMatos would mark the start of the first new settlement neighborhood in east Jerusalem since the establishment of Har Homa in 1997.

That settlement, near the site of Givat HaMatos, was set up during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s first term of office.

Critics consider Givat Hamatos particularly problematic because, along with another contentious building plan, it would hinder access to east Jerusalem from the West Bank. The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

Palestinian negotiator Mohamed Shtayyeh warned that the Israeli moves to build in east Jerusalem were pushing the Palestinians to accelerate plans to appeal to the International Criminal Court.

“The intensification of settlement activity and all the Israeli actions, from killings to arrests, are pushing us to accelerate our recourse to the International Criminal Court,” he told AFP.

Israel has announced several new building projects since the U.N. voted for a Palestinian state last month. The U.S. has harshly criticized the construction plans, while the U.N. Security Council is expected to discuss it Wednesday.

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