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Israel approves 558 new settlement homes in East Jerusalem

Israel has approved plans for 558 new settlement homes in annexed East Jerusalem, the city council has said. The announcement comes as the country is in the midst of peace talks with the Palestinians.

The city council in a statement on Wednesday listed "building permits that were approved" for housing units in the settlements of Har Homa, Neve Yaakov and Pisgat Zeev.

Israel's settlement watchdog Peace Now says issuing such permits is the last step before construction begins and that building should start in the coming weeks.

All three settlements are in part of the occupied West Bank captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed. The move is not recognized by the international community, which also considers settlement building to be illegal.

The construction permits issued Wednesday come as Israel engages in US-sponsored peace talks with the Palestinians that resumed in July. The Palestinians have said Israel's refusal to rein in settlement construction could derail the negotiations.

"The international community must hold Israel accountable for this policy," said Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

Ongoing expansion

The municipality spokeswoman said that initial plans for the latest settlement homes in East Jerusalem were approved years ago and that new construction in Arab areas of the city was also approved Wednesday.

Israel published tenders for 1,400 new settlement homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem three weeks ago. According to Peace Now, plans for 5,349 new homes in those areas have been announced since peace talks restarted.

The Palestinians want east Jerusalem as part of a future state, while Israel considers the city its "eternal, undivided" capital and thus does not see the construction of homes in the eastern section as settlement building.

Har Homa and Pisgat Zeev are in one of the areas of the West Bank that Israel said it plans to keep in any land-for-peace deals with the Palestinians.

dr/lw (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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