Israel to Build Over 800 New Homes in East Jerusalem Areas

Housing Minister announces tenders for 763 housing units in Pisgat Ze'ev and 121 in Har Homa.

Israel announced plans on Sunday to build more than 800 hundred new homes in eastern parts of the Jerusalem municipality, despite U.S. and Palestinian calls to halt settlement expansion.

The announcement was issued two days before Prime Minister Ehud Olmert embarks on a three-day visit to Washington.

The 2003 peace road map, reaffirmed by Israeli and Palestinian leaders at a conference hosted by U.S. President George W. Bush in November, requires a halt to all settlement activity on occupied land where Palestinians seek statehood.

Housing Minister Zeev Boim instructed his office to publish a tender to build an additional 763 housing units in Pisgat Zeev and 121 housing units at Har Homa, an area Palestinians refer to as Jabal Abu Ghneim.

Both sites are located on lands captured by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War, and were incorporated into the municipal borders of Jerusalem in an act not recognised internationally.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said Olmert's government "talks about peace while at the same time works on undermining the basis of peace by increasing settlement activity in Jerusalem and around it."

A Boim spokesman said the new tenders were a part of steps the government was taking to "strengthen Jerusalem."

However, Olmert, in keeping with the previous government's policy, has vowed to keep West Bank settlement blocs, including enclaves near Jerusalem, under any future peace accord.

Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its capital. Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of the state they hope to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Last month Boim instructed his office to publish a tender to build 286 new homes in the settlement of Beitar Illit, near Jerusalem.

Palestinian leaders say settlement expansion around Jerusalem could cut off Palestinians' access to the holy city and carve up the West Bank in a way that would deny them a contiguous state.