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Israel's PM Vows to Continue Settlement Construction

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to continue building settlements in Jerusalem, in spite of mounting opposition from the United States and other Western powers.

Mr. Netanyahu told parliament Monday that construction will continue in Jerusalem as it has for the past 42 years. Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and later annexed it -- a move not recognized internationally.

Newspapers on Monday quoted unidentified officials as saying the U.S. is pressuring Israel to cancel plans to build 1,600 homes in disputed East Jerusalem.

Israel announced the expansion plans last week as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visited the country in a bid to start indirect peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. Officials in U.S. President Barack Obama's administration called the timing of Israel's announcement insulting.

Meanwhile, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton says Israel's recent decisions to build housing units in East Jerusalem have "endangered and undermined" tentative plans to begin peace talks.

She commented Monday in a speech to the Arab League in Cairo.

Israel's ambassador to the United States has warned that U.S.-Israeli relations have hit a 35-year low due to a dispute about the housing plans in East Jerusalem.

Israeli newspapers say Ambassador Michael Oren briefed Israeli diplomats by telephone Saturday about the worsening of relations between the two long-time allies.

A series of senior U.S. officials has denounced Israel's approval last week of a plan to build the new apartments for Jews in East Jerusalem.

Palestinians claim the area as a future capital. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital.

Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed regret Sunday about the timing of the housing approval.

The Israeli construction plan also has raised tensions in Jerusalem. Israeli police restricted Palestinian access to Muslim shrines in Jerusalem's Old City for a fourth day Monday, saying the move is aimed at preventing disturbances.