Israeli official denies east Jerusalem building halt
Jerusalem: An Israeli official on Sunday denied Israel has agreed to halt a controversial east Jerusalem construction project ahead of the launch of US-brokered indirect talks with the Palestinians.
"The Prime Minister has clarified, over the whole process, that building and planning in Jerusalem will continue as usual, exactly as it has under all governments of Israel in the last 43 years, and no Israeli commitments have been given on this issue," a senior official close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.
Announcing the long-delayed start of indirect peace talks on Sunday, US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Israel had agreed to freeze the Ramat Shlomo housing project for a period of two years.
The Israeli official said that while no commitments have been given, Netanyahu had informed the US that under normal planning procedures it would take several years before any construction would start.
"In reality, the planning for Ramat Shlomo will take at least another year and actual building will only start in a few years," the official said on condition of anonymity.
Proximity talks were originally due to start in March but the Palestinians pulled out after Israel publicised plans to build the 1,600 home Ramat Shlomo project in annexed east Jerusalem.
The Palestinians only agreed to consider fresh talks after receiving US assurances that the Jerusalem settlement expansion plan would be frozen.
Jerusalem and Jewish settlements are among the thorniest issues in efforts to achieve a peace deal.
The Palestinians want east Jerusalem as the capital of their promised future state, but Israel considers all of the Holy City to be its "eternal and indivisible" capital.
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