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Israel OK’s building in disputed area

Associated Press / January 6, 2010

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JERUSALEM - Israel has approved construction of four new apartment buildings in disputed East Jerusalem, officials said yesterday, fueling tensions with the Palestinians at a time the United States is laboring to get peace talks moving again.

The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem for a future capital and demand all construction there stop before negotiations resume. The 24-unit project is being developed in an Arab neighborhood by Irving Moskowitz, an American Jew who has generously funded Jewish settlers, who are determined to cement Israel’s hold on contested areas of the Holy City.

The latest project is potentially even more contentious than others because it is not in any of the established Jewish neighborhoods. Instead, it is in the heart of a predominantly Arab area of the city.

Jerusalem is the most explosive issue between Israel and the Palestinians, and the new buildings would be located in one of its most volatile sites, outside the walled Old City with its Christian, Muslim, and Jewish shrines.

Stephan Miller, spokesman for Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, confirmed that Jerusalem’s local planning committee approved the project Monday, clearing the way for construction to begin.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned the move “in the strongest possible terms.’’ He said if Israel wants to resume peace talks, “they must announce a total cessation of settlement activities’’ in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israel committed to a full settlement freeze in 2003 under an internationally backed peace plan.

In another development, Palestinians symbolically burned a large pile of products made in Jewish settlements after declaring a boycott last month. After throwing a carton on the fire, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said he was “determined to clean the Palestinian marketplace from settler products.’’