Israeli authorities approved on Wednesday a major expansion of a Jewish settler enclave in the heart of a Palestinian neighbourhood of East Jerusalem, issuing building permits for 176 new housing units.
The construction, which a Jerusalem municipal spokeswoman said was approved by the city’s planning committee, was swiftly condemned by the Palestinians as a violation of international law.
Construction of the new units will nearly triple the number of settler homes in the Nof Zion settlement, which currently has 91 dwellings and is surrounded by Palestinian houses in the Jabel al-Mukaber neighbourhood.
The area is located in territory that Israel captured and annexed in a 1967 Middle East war and which Palestinians seek as part of a state they want to establish in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
“We are unifying Jerusalem through actions on the ground,” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said in a statement about the settlement’s expansion.
Israel’s claim to all of Jerusalem as its capital has not won international recognition, and many countries regard the settlements it has built on occupied land as illegal and obstacles to any future land-for peace deal. Israel disputes this.
Wasel Abu Yousif, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, called the construction plans in Jabel al-Mukaber “a challenge to all the calls by the international community” to halt settlement building.
Last week, Israel announced approval for the construction of several hundred additional homes for settlers in the West Bank, drawing condemnation from Palestinians and the European Union.
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have not been held since 2014, with settlement building one of the issues that led to their collapse.
Some 500,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas that are home to more than 2.6 million Palestinians.