German Chancellor Angela Merkel has told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the decision to green-light new Jewish housing units in east Jerusalem has "raised doubts that the Israeli government is interested in starting serious negotiations" with the Palestinians, her spokesman said Friday.
Steffen Seibert said in a statement that Merkel called Netanyahu to tell him "it is now necessary to dispel those doubts."
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The Prime Minister's Office responded in a statement, saying that "Gilo is not a settlement. It is a Jerusalem neighborhood that is located five minutes from the center of the city, and all of Israel's governments have built in it."
Seibert said Merkel told Netanyahu it is important to start negotiations "as soon as possible" on a two-state solution and that in the meantime both sides must refrain from "provocative acts."
Germany enjoys close relations with both Israel and the Palestinians, and has been frequently involved in acting as a neutral party to help negotiations between the two sides.
Merkel has also been a strong supporter of the need for a negotiated two-state solution.
But in the latest setback, Israel announced Tuesday that it has approved the new construction in the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo in southeast Jerusalem. The Palestinians condemned the plan, and the US, European Union and United Nations all swiftly expressed their disappointment over the settlements, which raised already heightened tensions after last week's Palestinian move to seek UN membership.
The Palestinians have demanded that Israel halt all settlement construction in east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as their future capital, and the adjacent West Bank – territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war – as a condition for resuming peace talks.
Gilo, which is close to the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, is among the largest Jewish enclaves in east Jerusalem, with about 50,000 residents.
Ronen Medzini contributed to the report
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