Palestinians and UN Condemn New Settlement Construction Plans

Abbas' spokesman calls the plan "destructive to the peace efforts that will only lead to more tensions."

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The Palestinian Authority Wednesday condemned Israel's announced renewal of construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, saying it was "destructive to the peace efforts and will only lead to more tensions."

"It's a message to the international community that Israel is a state that doesn't abide by international law and continues to put obstacles in the way of peace," said. Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Earlier on Wednesday, Israel announced plans to build more than 1,500 homes in East Jerusalem. The announcement came only hours after Israel had freed 26 Palestinian prisoners as part of a United States-brokered agreement to restart peace talks with the Palestinian Authority.

The announcement was made public in the middle of the night, in an attempt to blunt right wing's protests against the prisoner release.

The announcement was also condemned by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who described it as being "contrary to international law." Continued Israeli construction over the Green Line was "an obstacle to peace." Ban said.

Along with his condemnation, Ban commended Israel for taking the "difficult step" of releasing the Palestinian prisoners despite "deep domestic opposition."

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, "We do not consider continued settlement activity or East Jerusalem construction to be steps that create a positive environment for the negotiations."

Officials in the bureau of Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar said the minister and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had agreed on moving forward concurrently with four controversial construction projects across the Green Line in Jerusalem.

The proposed projects are the establishment of a national park on the slopes of Mount Scopus in Jerusalem, the construction of a tourism and archaeological center in the Palestinian village of Silwan, the construction of 1,500 housing units in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo and the expansion of current buildings in Ramat Shlomo.

The plans, some of which are recycled versions of older ones that have already been in the pipeline for some years, will fortify the Jewish presence in Jerusalem while obstructing expansion of Palestinian neighborhoods.

MK Ofir Akunis (Likud) said Wednesday that construction also had been approved for several West Bank settlements. "The building in Judea and Samaria will continue and be intensified," said Akunis.

Mount Scopus: Plans to turn the slopes into a national park provoked an uproar; protesters worry government is trying to stymie Palestinian expansion.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

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