Israel`s approval of new settlements sparks global criticisms

Israel`s approval of new settlements in Palestinian territories has sparked sharp criticisms from the global community, including the UN, US and the EU.

Jerusalem: Israel`s approval of new
settlements in Palestinian territories has sparked sharp
criticisms from the global community, including the UN, US and
the EU, who have described it as a major obstacle to the
Middle East peace talks.

Israel`s approval of 1,300 more homes in the
controversial neighbourhood of East Jerusalem has been flayed
by the UN, United States, European Union and the Palestinian
Authority (PA).

"Those who expected (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin)
Netanyahu to declare in the United States that he is committed
to the negotiations, received the answer, which is so loud
that it has reached (US) President (Barack) Obama in New
Delhi," said Saeb Erekat, the PA Chief peace negotiator.

He said in light of the recent developments he
expected the Israel`s close ally, the United States, to "make
a clear announcement on which side is responsible for the
talks` failure."

Part of the new building plans, include a gradual
construction of 650 housing units in the West Bank city of
Ariel. Alongside that project, 190 housing units are being
built for residents evacuated from the Gaza settlement of
Netzarim during 2005`s disengagement process.

The construction in Ariel has been at the centre of
controversy between Israel and the United States. While Israel
sees it as part of a large settlement bloc, the US sees it as
a panhandle sticking into the West Bank, intended to prevent
Palestinian territorial contiguity.

The area earmarked for Ariel`s new neighbourhood is
right next to the Palestinian town of Salfit.

PA walked out of `direct talks` with Israel that
started off in September under US mediation asserting that
Israel first impose total freeze on building activities in the
West Bank and east Jerusalem.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced
his concern over the new construction plan during his meeting
with Netanyahu in New York yesterday.

Earlier, US State Department Spokesman, Philip
Crowley, said that Washington was "deeply disappointed by the
announcement of advanced planning for new housing units in
sensitive areas of East Jerusalem."

He added the construction announcement might have been
meant to "embarrass the (Israeli) Prime Minister and to
undermine the process."

A similar announcement by Jerusalem municipality
during US Vice President Joe Biden`s visit to Israel several
months ago had led to a major diplomatic crisis between the
two strategic partners, described as the worst in 35 years.

European Union Foreign Policy Chief, Catherine Ashton,
today also joined the global condemnations of Israel`s
decision to build new housing units in West Bank settlements
and Jewish neighbourhoods in east Jerusalem.

"This plan contradicts the efforts by the
international community to resume direct negotiations and the
decision should be reversed," Ashton said in a statement.

"Settlements are illegal under international law,
constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a
two-state solution impossible," she added.


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