Ban Ki-moon - AP - 28.2.2011
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Photo by AP
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Givat Hamatos plan
Map of Givat Hamatos plan, Jerusalem.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon criticized Israel on Friday over reports that it plans to build 2,600 more housing units in East Jerusalem, saying further settlement activity was "unacceptable."

"The Secretary-General is deeply concerned at continued efforts to advance planning for new Israeli settlements in occupied East Jerusalem," Ban's press office said in a statement.

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"Recent developments in this regard have been unacceptable, particularly as efforts are ongoing to resume (Israeli-Palestinian) negotiations, and run contrary to the Quartet's call on the parties to refrain from provocations," it said.

The Peace Now anti-settlement group said on Friday that Israel planned to build the housing units in a new urban settlement in East Jerusalem, angering Palestinians who want a halt to all such projects before they return to peace talks.

The "Quartet" of Middle East peace negotiators - the United States, Russia, the European Union and United Nations - has urged Israel and the Palestinians to avoid provocative actions and urged them to resume stalled peace negotiations.

The Israel Lands Administration published a reparcelization plan Tuesday for Givat Hamatos, in south Jerusalem. The plan calls for building 2,610 residential units, one third of them as part of an expansion of the Palestinian village of Beit Safafa, on the southern border of the capital.

This is the first time since Har Homa was established - during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's first term, in the late 1990s - that a new Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem is slated for building.

The Jerusalem Municipality is yet to approve plans for the neighborhood, called Givat Hamatos, but the right-wing composition of its planning and building committee, swift approval is expected.

The Jerusalem District Planning Council vetted development plans for other Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, but it is the Jerusalem Municipality who can make decisions about Givat Hamatos.

The land included in the construction plans is owned by the state, which holds ultimate authority over the project.

"The Secretary-General reiterates that settlement activity in East Jerusalem and the remainder of the West Bank is contrary to international law," the UN statement said, adding such activity "must cease."

The reports about a new settlement plan come as the Palestinians attempt to secure UN recognition of a sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital, along with full membership in the United Nations.

The Palestinian UN bid has infuriated Israel, which says it is an attempt to delegitimize it. Israel's ally the United States has said it was prepared to veto the Palestinian UN application, which is currently being assessed by a UN Security Council committee.

If the Palestinian application to join the United Nations comes to a vote in the full Security Council, the United States has the power to veto it due to its status as a permanent member of the 15-nation panel.

The Security Council committee is expected to report back to the full council next week about progress it has made assessing the Palestinian UN application.

Diplomats on the committee, which includes all council members, say privately that little progress has been made in assessing the Palestinian request to join the world body.