Building of Jerusalem settlement to continue: Israel minister
JERUSALEM (AFP) — Construction of a Jewish settlement in east Jerusalem will continue despite criticism from US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, an Israeli minister said on Friday.
"Construction will continue at full flow, and our friends must be told this," Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman, a deputy premier, told public television.
On Tuesday Israel said it had invited bids to build more than 300 new housing units at Har Homa in annexed east Jerusalem, the first settlement expansion since the revival of peace talks with the Palestinians.
"It is clear to the whole world that Har Homa is an integral part of Israel and that Har Homa will remain an integral part of Jerusalem," Lieberman added.
Referring to last week's Middle East peace conference, Rice on Friday criticised the decision.
"I made it clear that we are in a time when the goal is to build maximum confidence with the parties," she told a news conference in Brussels. "This is not going to build that confidence."
The decision to build the new homes has been slammed by the Palestinians as an attempt to undermine the renewed peace drive officially launched after a seven-year hiatus at the US-hosted talks last week.
It was taken after the meeting, where Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehid Olmert agreed to try to reach an accord before the end of 2008 that would allow creation of a Palestinian state.
They also pledged to implement the 2003 roadmap plan, the first phase of which calls on Israel to freeze all settlement activity and for Palestinians to improve security.
Jewish settlements are one of the core issues that will be addressed in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations due to begin on December 12.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also said on Thursday that the Israeli decision to expand Har Homa, known to Arabs as Jebel Abu Ghneim, was "not helpful" so soon after the conference held at Annapolis near Washington.
Israel does not consider construction in east Jerusalem -- which it captured in the 1967 Six-Day War -- as settlement growth because it annexed the Arab eastern sector of the Holy City shortly after the conflict.
Its decision to do so was never recognised internationally and the Palestinians want to make east Jerusalem the capital of their future state.