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Palestinian Leader Calls for US Intervention on Israeli Construction Project

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called on the United States to intervene with Israel to stop a controversial park project that would demolish more than 20 Palestinian homes in mainly Arab East Jerusalem.

Mr. Abbas reported his request to journalists in Amman Tuesday while meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II. Both denounced Jerusalem municipal authorities' approval of the plan, which would make room for a park and tourist center in the King's Garden area, a section of the Silwan neighborhood.

Jerusalem's planning commission approved the King's Garden construction plan Monday at the urging of Mayor Nir Barkat.

U.S. officials have already warned the construction project, which needs other approval before finalization, could further threaten Middle East peace efforts.

Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Tuesday the planning commission's decision lacks good sense and shows poor timing.

The defense minister, who is a former Israeli prime minister, is in the United States for talks with the Obama administration.

The plans are not final and can be blocked by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr. Netanyahu asked Barkat in March to put the project on hold, expressing concern about Israel's international image.

Palestinian leaders have described the project as another attempt by Israel to back its claim to all of Jerusalem. Israel annexed East Jerusalem after capturing it from Jordan in the 1967 war, but the move is not internationally recognized. The area is claimed by Palestinians as the capital of their future state.

The area is also considered as part of the "Holy Basin," where ancient Jerusalem stood under the Biblical kings David and Solomon. Israeli officials say the plan calls for demolishing 22 Palestinian homes built without permits, while legalizing some 60 of the houses Israel says were built illegally.

Palestinians argue they have a hard time obtaining building permits from Israel.

In Jerusalem Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Palestinians for the absence of direct peace talks and urged Mr. Abbas to resume talks without delay.

Mr. Abbas has demanded a full freeze of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem before resuming full negotiations.

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