Interior Minister Eli Yishai
Interior Minister Eli Yishai Photo by Hagai Ofen
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Interior Minister Eli Yishai declared Thursday that Israel had not agreed to freeze construction in East Jerusalem, adding that American demands to do so would never be met.

"There is not and never has been a freeze on construction in Jerusalem, nor will there ever be," said Yishai, whose approval of a 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem during U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's visit in March sparked tension in U.S.-Israeli ties.

Yishai, who heads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, told his faction's newspaper that the issue would not be raised during upcoming visits by senior American officials.

The Interior Minister said that he intended to expedite procedures for planning and construction across Israel, but particularly in Jerusalem. Residents of the capital were suffering a serious housing crisis, Yishai told the newspaper, forcing many to leave the city.

"We will build everywhere in the capital of the Jewish nation's everlasting homeland, and I have clarified this to our American counterparts and friends," said Yishai.

He added that he had instructed the Jerusalem Building and Planning Council to convene after several delayed sessions to discuss renewing construction in the Arab area of Shoafat.

Yishai's comments came just a day after the U.S. State Department warned both Palestinians and Israelis to avoid taking inflammatory actions in Jerusalem.

"As we have said, if either side takes significant actions during the proximity talks that we judge would seriously undermine trust, we will respond to hold them accountable and ensure that negotiations continue," said a State Department representative.

The State Department further emphasized the U.S. stance on Jerusalem and expressed faith in the success of the indirect negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel.

"Our policy on Jerusalem remains unchanged. The status of Jerusalem is an issue that should be resolved in permanent status negotiations between the parties. This underlines the importance of making progress in the proximity talks to enable the parties to move to direct negotiations that will resolve this and other issues once and for all," said the U.S. official.