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City council 'fast tracks' Jerusalem settler homes

July 5, 2011 9:31 P.M. (Updated: July 7, 2011 9:43 A.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Plans to build around 900 new homes in Gilo, a settlement neighborhood of annexed east Jerusalem are being fast tracked by the city council, settler watchdog Peace Now charged Tuesday.

Plans to build the homes in Gilo in the southern sector of east Jerusalem were first announced in April but on Monday passed another stage in the bureaucratic process before becoming a reality, a city councillor from the right-wing Likud party said Tuesday.

"The municipal commission on Monday approved a plan to build 900 homes in Gilo," said Elisha Peleg. "The municipality will continue to build in all areas of the city, both for Jews and Arabs according to the overall plan in Gilo and elsewhere."

Peace Now's Hagit Ofran said the plan, which was first made public in April, had been put out for period of public review, and Monday's session had been devoted to examining the objections raised against it.

Following the session, the committee had decided to approve the project in a move normally done by the district committee.

"Politically it means the municipality is eager to push this plan forward. It makes it more likely to happen," Ofran said.

"It means the planning is moving faster than usual, that the municipality wants it to move fast," she said.

"These 800-900 units in Gilo is not a geographical revolution -- it is just a dramatic expansion of an existing settlement, which will bring more Israelis to live there and make compromise harder," she said.

"The biggest significance is the political message it sends -- that Israel is putting all its efforts into building east Jerusalem and not into west Jerusalem to spite the world and the Palestinians."

When the plans were first made public in April, Israel's Jerusalem municipality said it was in addition to an earlier tranche of more than 900 new homes in the same neighborhood which were approved in November 2009.

Gilo lies in mostly Palestinian east Jerusalem, which Israel captured along with the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War and later occupied and annexed in a move not recognized by the international community.

Israel considers both halves of the Holy City its "eternal, indivisible" capital, and does not view construction in the east to be settlement activity.

The Palestinians, however, want east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state and fiercely contest any actions to extend Israel's control over the sector.

Some 180,000 Israelis live in east Jerusalem alongside nearly 270,000 Palestinians.

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