WASHINGTON – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement on Thursday condemning Israel's decision to authorize the construction of new housing units in Maskiyot, a small settlement community in the Jordan River Valley.
"The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the announcement today of the initial approval by the Ministry of Defense of 20 residential units in the Israeli military post of Maskiyot in the West Bank.
"The Secretary-General has stressed many times before that settlement construction or expansion is contrary to international law and Israel's commitments under the Road Map and the Annapolis process," the statement said.
Ban urged Israel to "heed the call of the Quartet to freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth, and to dismantle outposts erected since March 2001."
The Defense Ministry announced earlier in the day it intends to build 20 new housing units in Maskiyot, an abandoned military base in the Jordan River Valley, for families evacuated from settlements in the Gaza Strip during the 2005 disengagement. The plan was frozen in 2006 after it provoked international condemnation.
It still needs the approval of Defense Minister Ehud Barak and final authorization from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. An Israeli official was quoted by the Associated Press as saying Barak had encouraged the national planning committee to authorize construction and signaled that he would approve it within weeks.
Asked to comment, Olmert spokesman Mark Regev restated Israel's commitment ''not to build new settlements, nor to outwardly expand existing ones.''
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat accused Israel of undermining US-backed peace talks.
''This is destroying the process of a two-state solution,'' Erekat said. ''I hope the Americans will make the Israelis revoke the decision. I think they can make the Israelis do this.''
The US Embassy had no comment Thursday.
Settlers say around two dozen more families are waiting to join several settlers who already reside in Maskiyot in mobile homes. A religious school was founded in the community four years ago.