News / Middle East

Israel Approves Housing Project in East Jerusalem

Israel approved the construction of four residential buildings for Jews in disputed east Jerusalem Tuesday, triggering condemnation from Palestinians.

A Jerusalem municipal committee authorized the project, which calls for the construction of 24 apartments next to a Jewish seminary on the Mount of Olives.

Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned the plan, saying continued settlement activity in east Jerusalem undermines efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

In violence on Tuesday, an Israeli air strike killed a Palestinian militant and wounded at least three others in the town of Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip.  A Palestinian militant group, the Popular Resistance Committees, said a local commander, Jihad Smairi, was killed in the air raid.

The group claimed responsibility for Monday's mortar attack on Israel.

Also Tuesday, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad took part in a West Bank demonstration during which Palestinians burned products made in Jewish settlements.  Palestinians announced a boycott of such products last month.

Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast War and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. The Jewish state claims all of Jerusalem as its capital and does not consider construction in the eastern sector to be settlement activity.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has demanded that Israel stop all construction in east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank before peace talks resume.  Israel has said it is ready to resume negotiations immediately without preconditions.

On Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak spoke by phone and discussed the "urgent need for overcoming obstacles" to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.  A U.N. spokesman says Mr. Ban also discussed Mideast peace during a meeting with U.S. special envoy George Mitchell.  The U.N. chief stated his concern for the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip.

Separately, Israeli media report that Israel's defense minister has received death threats from a right-wing activist who opposes his involvement in Israel's 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction in the West Bank. The freeze was imposed last November.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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