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Israel approves about 900 new settlement housing units

Jerusalem's municipality has reportedly approved about 900 new settlement housing units for east Jerusalem. The new homes are in addition to the 1,200 approved by the government over the weekend.

On Tuesday, Israeli officials confirmed that the new units had been given approval to be built in Gilo, an existing settlement in east Jerusalem. The city's deputy mayor, Yosef Pepe Alalu, told the news agency AFP that a total of 942 units were to be constructed, though the Associated Press put the number at "nearly 900."

The announcement comes as Israelis and Palestinians are set to enter another round of US-brokered peace talks this week.

Settlements condemned

Israel already announced on Sunday it was constructing 1,200 other settlement homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, a move met with harsh condemnation by Palestinians. Most countries, including Israel's close ally the United States, view the settlement activity as illegal.

Speaking from Colombia on Monday, US Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the earlier settlement announcement. He urged both sides "not to react adversely" and stressed the importance of continuing peace talks.

"We have known that there was going to be a continuation of some building in certain places, and I think the Palestinians understand that," Kerry said. "What this underscores, actually, is the importance of getting to the table ... quickly, and resolving the questions with respect to settlements, which are best resolved by solving the problem of security and borders."

"Once you have security and borders solved, you have resolved the question of settlements. And so I urge all parties not to react adversely or provoke adversely, whichever party may do one or the other in any way," he added.

The EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, also condemned Sunday's announcement, with her spokesman saying settlements were illegal and "threaten to make a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict impossible."

Watch video 01:34

Israel prepares to release Palestinians

Prisoners set for release

Israel on Tuesday was also planning to hand over 26 long-term Palestinian prisoners after its High Court rejected an appeal to halt their release. Relatives of those allegedly killed by the prisoners had attempted keep them behind bars, but a three-judge panel ruled that the government was within its rights to release the prisoners.

The inmates are the first batch of 104 prisoners that could be freed at certain stages of the peace negotiations, depending on how they progress.

dr/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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