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'No limit' to construction in East Jerusalem, says Israel FM

November 16, 2014

Israel will "never agree to limit" housing construction in annexed East Jerusalem, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has said. The remarks came after talks in Jerusalem with Germany's top diplomat.

Image: picture-alliance/epa/A. Sultan

Talking to journalists on Sunday, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (pictured on right) voiced in unequivocal fashion his nation's right to housing construction in the annexed eastern section of Jerusalem, saying Israel would "never agree to limit its activity."

"One thing should be clear: we will never accept the definition of building in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem as settlement activity," he added at a news conference with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was in Israel for talks Sunday after meeting Palestinian leaders in the West Bank on Saturday.

Steinmeier, for his part, urged Lieberman and the Israeli government to pursue all possible avenues for peace and, in particular, to "refrain from all activity" that could potentially be a stumbling block to peace negotiations with Palestinians.

Main source of discord

Israel refers to the entire city of Jerusalem as its "united, undivided capital." The Palestinians demand that the city's eastern sector be made capital of their promised state, and are vehemently against any Israeli attempt to expand construction.

Liebermann's remarks came four days after Israel approved plans to build 200 homes in Ramot in occupied East Jerusalem despite months of almost daily clashes and tensions there with Palestinians, triggered in part by settlement expansion.

That announcement prompted a rebuke from Washington, which reiterated its "unequivocal" opposition to such construction in East Jerusalem, warning it could "exacerbate this difficult situation on the ground and ... will not contribute to efforts to reduce the tension."

Israel seized East Jerusalem during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community.

Messerattacke im Westjordanland 10.11.2014
Recents tensions have resulted in sporadic incidents of violenceImage: Reuters/R. Zvulun

Reduce tensions, Steinmeier urges

Recent disputes between Israelis and Palestinians also concern access to the flashpoint site known to Jews as Temple Mount and Muslims as the Al-Aqsa Mosque - part of a compound supervised by neighboring Jordan.

On Friday, Israel lifted restrictions on Muslims praying at the mosque, a day after US Secretary of State John Kerry, while visiting Amman, said there had been agreement on confidence-building measures.

For decades, Jews have only been allowed to visit the site - via an allotted route - but not pray. Far-right Jews had campaigned for rights to pray as well.

In recent weeks, the tensions led to violent scenes, including stabbings and stone-throwing protests. On Saturday, Germany's chief diplomat said tensions must be reduced so that negotiations could be re-opened.

"There is no alternative to negotiations to reach a two-state solution … a Palestinian state living in peace and security alongside Israel," Steinmeier said.

glb/tj (AP, dpa, AFP)