Middle East

Israel approves 1,100 settler homes in Gilo, Jerusalem

Construction cranes in Gilo (January 2011)
Image caption Gilo is built on land captured by Israel in 1967

Israel has approved the construction of 1,100 homes in the Jewish settlement of Gilo on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

The move comes days after Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas called for full UN membership for a Palestinian state.

There has been widespread condemnation of the move by Palestinian and Western powers, including the EU and US.

Almost 500,000 Jews live in settlements on occupied territory. The settlements are illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

US-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians are deadlocked over the issue of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Also on Tuesday, three UN special rapporteurs called for an immediate end to the demolition of Palestinian-owned homes and other structures in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

'Nice gift'

The plan for construction in Gilo includes the construction of small housing units, public buildings, a school and an industrial zone, according to the Ynet news website.

"It's a nice gift for Rosh Hashanah [Jewish New Year]," Yair Gabay, a member of the Jerusalem planning committee, told Ynet.

The authorities have now approved the building of almost 3,000 homes in Gilo over the past two years.

The chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the decision represented a rejection of a proposal by the Quartet of Mid East negotiators - the US, the EU, Russia and the UN - for new talks between the Palestinians and Israelis.

"With this, Israel is responding to the Quartet's statement with 1,100 'NOs'," he said.

The US said the move was "deeply disappointing" and "counterproductive".

The EU Foreign Policy Chief, Catherine Ashton, noted that the Quartet had called for parties "to refrain from provocative actions".

"It is with deep regret that I learned today about the decision to advance in the plans for settlement expansion in east Jerusalem," she said in a statement.

"This plan should be reversed. Settlement activity threatens the viability of an agreed two-state solution and runs contrary to the Israeli-stated commitment to resume negotiations."

The US and UN have criticised earlier announcements of building projects.

France and the UK also voiced concerns.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague urged Israel to revoke its decision.

"Settlement expansion is illegal under international law, corrodes trust and undermines the basic principle of land for peace," he said in a statement.

'Discriminatory demolitions'

Israel built the settlement at Gilo on land it captured in 1967. It later annexed the area to the Jerusalem municipality in a move not recognised by the international community.

Israel says it does not consider areas within the Jerusalem municipality to be settlements.

Gilo lies across a narrow valley from the Palestinian village of Beit Jala. It became a target for militants during the second Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation in 2000.

Meanwhile, the UN rapporteurs on housing, water, sanitation and food rights said there had been a "dramatic increase" in the demolitions this year.

"The impact and discriminatory nature of these demolitions and evictions is completely unacceptable," they said in a statement.

"These actions by the Israeli authorities violate human rights and humanitarian law and must end immediately."

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