JERUSALEM // Israel yesterday granted the go-ahead for construction of 1,100 housing units in east Jerusalem, raising already heightened tensions fuelled by last week's Palestinian move to seek UN membership.
Israel's interior ministry said the homes would be built in Gilo, a sprawling Jewish enclave in south-eastern Jerusalem. It said construction could begin after a mandatory 60-day period for public comment, a process that is largely a formality.
The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as their future capital. They have demanded that Israel halt all settlement construction there and the adjacent West Bank, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 war, as a condition for resuming peace talks.
Israel says east Jerusalem, home to Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites, is an essential part of its undivided capital.
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, condemned the Israeli decision, saying it amounted to "1,100 noes to the resumption of peace talks".
He urged the United States, Israel's closest and most important ally, to change its position and support the Palestinians in their quest for UN membership.
The US said it was "deeply disappointed" by Israel's decision, saying the move was counterproductive to efforts to get direct negotiations started again between Israel and the Palestinians.
With peace talks stalled for the past three years, the Palestinians last week asked the United Nations to recognise an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip.
The US opposes the measure and has promsied to veto the request in the Security Council. As with Israel, the US says a Palestinian state can only be established through negotiations.
In an interview published yesterday, Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said he would not freeze settlement construction again.
Speaking to the Jerusalem Post, he said that a 10-month moratorium on new construction last year failed to yield results. He said he saw no need for another freeze.
Meanwhile, the European parliament yesterday gave its green light to a deal enabling Palestinians to export farm and fish products directly to the European Union from next year, without transit through Israel.
The trade agreement will help boost the Palestinian economy by enabling West Bank and Gaza producers to export goods directly from early 2012, excepting fruit and vegetables.
The parliamentarian Maria Eleni Koppa said: "This vote allows the European Union to send a united signal to the region and show our commitment to a peaceful end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
* Associated Press with additional reporting from Agence France-Presse