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EU Criticizes Israeli Decision to Build New E. Jerusalem Homes

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man walks in Ramat Shlomo, a religious Jewish settlement in an area of the West Bank annexed to Jerusalem by Israel. Israel's interior minister has given final approval for a plan to build 1,600 settler homes in the East Jerusalem

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton expressed "deep regret" over Israel's decision to build 1,600 new homes for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem. Ashton said the announcement "threatens the viability of an agreed two-state solution" and "undermines ongoing efforts to resume negotiations."

Israel's Interior Ministry gave final approval for the plan Thursday, and said it expects to soon approve the construction of another 2,700 houses in the city. The ministry's spokesman said the housing plans are not politically based, but rather a reaction to recent protests about the high cost of living and calls for more affordable housing in Israel.

Video clip: Jewish settlement

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat strongly condemned the planned construction. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state and have refused to resume peace talks unless Israel stops building in the city and in the West Bank.

In Washington Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney urged Israel and Palestinians not to take any action that would make it harder for the two sides to come together and negotiate.

For the last two months, hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken part in protests against what they see as a widening gap between the country's rich and poor.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.