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Israel says won't retreat on settlement plan

Dec. 3, 2012 6:16 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 5, 2012 8:45 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Reuters) -- Israel will not backtrack on a settlement expansion plan that has drawn strong international condemnation, an official in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said on Monday.

"Israel will continue to stand by its vital interests, even in the face of international pressure, and there will be no change in the decision that was made," the official said.

Britain, France and Sweden summoned the Israeli ambassadors in their respective capitals to hear appeals for Netanyahu to reverse course and deep disapproval of the plan to erect 3,000 more homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

"The announcement in and of itself is an assault not just on Palestine, but also on the will of the international community," Palestinian Authority spokeswoman Nour Odeh told Ma'an.

"The settlement plans are a strategic blow to the two state solution, which the world agrees is the only acceptable formula to resolve the conflict," Odeh added.

Israel's intransigence to the overwhelming condemnation by the international community is further proof that the Palestinian UN bid was the right path, Odeh said.

"It is incumbent upon international actors to take a very clear stand, in actions and not only statements, to stop the construction," she added.

Israel announced the planned settlement expansion on Friday, a day after the UN General Assembly granted de facto recognition to Palestinian statehood over Israeli and US objections.

All settlements are illegal under international law and and are routinely condemned by the international community.

The latest Israeli plan, however, also included "preliminary zoning and planning work" for settler housing in the so-called "E1" zone east of Jerusalem.

Israeli construction there could bisect the occupied West Bank, potentially cutting Palestinians off from Jerusalem and further undermining the possibility for a contiguous state.

Ma'an staff in Bethlehem contributed to this report
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