Interior Minister Eli Yishai authorized the construction of thousands of new housing units in Jerusalem, half of which are to be built beyond the Green Line, Ynet has learned Thursday.
Yishai has reportedly green-lighted the construction of 1,600 housing units in the northeastern neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo alone, a project whose announcement last year during a visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden caused a diplomatic rift with Washington.
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Another plan will see 700 new housing units built in the adjacent neighborhood of Pisgat Zeev.
A third, 2,000-unit project is planned for Givat HaMatos, which is also beyond the Green Line.
Sources in the Interior Ministry said that Yishai views the projects as one of the solutions to Jerusalem's housing plight, adding that the recent induction of the National Housing Committees' Law, has allowed for the projects' authorization process to be accelerated.
A similar, 7,000-housing units project has been approved in the Haifa district as well.
Nabil Abu Rdainah, spokesman for the Palestinian presidency, called on the United States, the European Union and other sponsors of the Middle East peace process to pressure the Israeli government to halt the settlement plans.
At the time, Biden condemned the Israeli plan to build at Ramat Shlomo and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in unusually blunt remarks, called it an insult. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced regret for the timing of that announcement but rejected any curbs on settlement in and around Jerusalem.
Peace Now, an anti-settlement Israeli advocacy group, responded to Yishai's move by issuing a statement accusing the government of "cynically using the current housing crisis in Israel to promote construction in the settlements".
Yishai's move follows a recent decision by the Jerusalem Zoning Commission, to build 930 housing units in the southeast neighborhood of Har Homa.
Both the US and the EU denounced the decision: The State Department said it was "deeply concerned" by the move and urged Israel to avoid "unilateral moves which would hinder the peace process"; while EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton said she was "deeply disappointed" by the decision.
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