The European Union's foreign policy chief has criticized Israel's plan to build hundreds of homes in Jerusalem's Gilo and called for it to hold fresh talks with the Palestinians.
Catherine Ashton "deeply regrets" the Israeli Interior Ministry's decision to back the expansion of Gilo settlement by 797 units, said a statement from her office.
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"Settlements are illegal under international law and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible," said the statement, which repeated the EU's call for an end to settlements, both in the West Bank and in east Jerusalem.
Talks "continue to represent the best way forward in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," it added.
"Continuous expansion of settlements makes this all the more difficult."
On Thursday the Interior Ministry granted final approval for the plans to build the additional housing units in Gilo, which is located beyond the Green Line.
Gilo neighborhood (Photo courtesy of Lowshot)
On Saturday Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman rejected the EU's condemnation of the decision, saying Gilo "is an inseparable of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem is an inseparable part of Israel.
"These automatic condemnations indicate a lack of a basic understanding of the reality in the region," the minister said in a statement.
"These condemnations contribute nothing to the advancement of dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians. They only encourage the Palestinian side to stick to its refusal to negotiate and continue its anti-Israeli activities in the international arena," Lieberman added.
"The EU should focus on the problems that are surfacing between different nations on European soil. After these issues are successfully resolved, we will gladly hear any suggestions regarding a solution to the problems with the Palestinians."
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told AFP on Thursday that "Israel's decision to build 800 housing units is part of an overall Israeli plan which aims to destroy the two-state solution."
The only answer was for the international community to back Palestinian plans to seek upgraded UN status, he added.
A resolution to that effect is to be put to the UN General Assembly in November.
Russia said Friday it was "very concerned" by Israel's plans to build new housing units in Gilo.
"The Israeli construction creates additional obstacles to the resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians," Moscow said, adding that "all Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem are illegal under international law."
Israel considers both west and east Jerusalem to be its "eternal, indivisible" capital. The Palestinians, however, believe east Jerusalem should be the capital of their future state and are fiercely opposed to the extension of Israeli control over the sector.
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