Settlements - AP - Sept 27, 2010
Instead of settlement construction, the international community should focus on the injustices of the occupation. Photo by AP
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The United Nation's Mideast envoy on Thursday criticized Israel's renewed building in West Bank settlements in response to an Associated Press investigation.

The AP report showed that Israel has begun building at least 544 apartments since a 10-month halt on new housing starts in the settlements expired late last month.

Palestinians charge that construction in the settlements is aimed at preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state.

In a statement, UN envoy Robert Serry called the AP report "alarming." He said settlement construction is illegal under international law and "will only further undermine trust."

Israel has so far refused to renew the construction curbs, saying the settlement issue should be addressed in negotiations.

U.S. State Department spokesperson added that Washington's policy on settlements was well known. "We remain focused on the goal of advancing negotiations toward a two-state solution and encourage the parties to take constructive actions toward that goal."

Israel also drew criticism Thursday from former President Jimmy Carter, who is visiting Israel, Gaza and the West Bank as part of a delegation of Elders, led by Mary Robinson, former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

After touring east Jerusalem flashpoints where Jewish settlers have moved in to houses after Palestinians were evicted, Carter expressed outrage.

"The suffering here under occupation and the deprivations of people in Gaza are evidence of the improper policies of the government of Israel," he said. "We will continue to work on a peaceful solution where the Israelis will withdraw from east Jerusalem, and let this be the capital of a Palestinian state."

Israel annexed east Jerusalem shortly after capturing it in the 1967 Mideast war, a move the international community does not recognize. Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

The Israelis claim they are living in the houses legally. They moved into the east Jerusalem neighborhoods after Israel's Supreme Court ruled that they had legal deeds to the properties.

Carter, a longtime critic of Israeli policy toward Arabs, said he relayed his concerns in a meeting with the speaker of the Israeli parliament.

An Elders statement charged that Israel is eroding the possibility of a two-state solution - Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side - by building settlements and destroying Palestinian homes. Robinson said she was "shocked at the practices the Jerusalem authorities are being allowed to get away with."

In response, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said he is trying to improve the quality of life for all the city's residents.