West Bank  settlement - AP-  Jan. 24, 2011
The West Bank settlement of Ariel Photo by AP
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The Palestinian leadership sharply criticized on Monday Israel's approval of 277 housing units in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.

Nabil Abu Rdainah, spokesman for Abbas, told Reuters: "This act is condemned and is an Israeli attempt to obstruct and destroy what is left of any effort to revive the peace process.

"Once again, these Israeli settlement measures represent a strong reason calling on us to go to the United Nations and the Security Council to request membership for the State of Palestine and to halt these Israeli measures," he said.

On Thursday, the U.S. State Department voiced concern over final approval given for the construction of 1,600 housing units in Ramat Shlomo, a religious Jewish settlement in an area of the West Bank annexed to Jerusalem by Israel.

A State Department spokeswoman said such unilateral action "undercuts trust" and works against U.S. efforts to get Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

Yariv Oppenheimer, a spokesman for Peace Now, an anti-settlement Israeli advocacy group, called the Ariel project "a very negative move that shows the Israeli government has no intention to speak to the Palestinians but wants to confront them and the international community."

Barak authorized the construction in Ariel, the core of the settlement bloc deepest inside the West Bank. One hundred of the apartments will house Israelis evacuated in 2005 from a Gaza Strip settlement.

The building permits for the homes were handed out a while ago, but marketing the lands to contractors was delayed due to diplomatic considerations until now. The construction is expected to conclude in about three years.

This marks the largest construction project in a single settlement since the establishment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had no immediate comment Monday on the diplomatically charged move.