Israel has approved a controversial archaeology project in East Jerusalem, the Interior Ministry said Friday, in a move likely to compound tensions threatening to scuttle peace talks with the Palestinians.
The ministry "heard objections" from the Palestinians and from residents to the plans to build a visitor center just outside Jerusalem's Old City walls in the Arab neighbourhood of Silwan, a statement said.
However it granted approval to the project on grounds that it "will show important archaeological discoveries to the public."
"As a tourist attraction, this will contribute to the development of the city of Jerusalem," the ministry added.
The Silwan neighbourhood, where the 1,200 square meter (13,000 square foot) complex is to be built, is already home to dozens of Jewish settler families who live under heavy guard among their Arab neighbors.
Arab residents charge that the new visitor center fails to take account of their needs and is an attempt to further strengthen the Jewish presence in Silwan.
Last March, the Palestinian news agency Ma'an reported that the Israel Antiquities Authority destroyed a number of archeological sites and antiques after conducting a dig in the neighborhood of Silwan.
Silwan, part of the so-called Holy Basin around the Old City, is believed to be the site of ancient Jerusalem during the time of the biblical kings David and Solomon.
Tensions between Silwan's Arab residents and the 400 Jewish settlers living in the middle of them often erupt into stone-throwing clashes, which frequently result in the arrest of Palestinian youngsters.