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Israel approves new settlement homes

Israel has approved a plan to build nearly 1,200 apartments in Jewish settlements. The announcement comes just three days before Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are to resume in Jerusalem.

Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel gave final approval on Sunday to build 1,187 apartments in east Jerusalem and the West Bank. The announcement is bound to heighten tensions as Israel and Palestine head into talks after a five-year stalemate.

"No country in the world takes orders from other countries where it can build and where it can't," Ariel said in a statement. "We will continue to market housing and build in the entire country ... This is the right thing at the present time, for Zionism and for the economy."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had long insisted he would not resume talks without an end to Israeli settlement construction. However, in an apparent tradeoff to jumpstart talks, Abbas agreed to enter talks without a settlement freeze and Israel agreed to release 104 Palestinian prisoners over several months. The first group of 26 is to be freed Tuesday.

Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, which was captured by Israel in 1967. Most of the international community does not recognize the annexation.

Israel has built dozens of settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem but almost all countries, and the United Nations, view the settlements as illegal.

hc/tj (AP, AFP)