Israel has approved construction of 1,300 new buildings in an area of the occupied West Bank, an Israeli official said on Saturday.
The announcement, condemned by the Palestinians, came as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Israel to try to push for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal by the end of this year.
Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Hadad said the housing units, planned for the ultra-Orthodox area of Ramat Shlomo, were approved by the regional planning board.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called the announcement part of "a systematic policy to destroy the peace process".
"The number one item on Rice's agenda should be to stop this destructive Israeli policy," Erekat said.
The 2003 peace "road map", reaffirmed by Israeli and Palestinian leaders at a conference hosted by Bush in November, requires a halt to all settlement activity on occupied land where Palestinians seek statehood.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of the state they hope to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Rice called Jewish settlement building "a problem" on Saturday and said Israel had not done enough to ease restrictions on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
"Look, it's a problem and I think it's a problem that we're going to address with the Israelis," Rice said of recent Israeli settlement construction announcements as she flew to Tel Aviv on her sixth trip this year to try to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Earlier this month, Housing Minister Zeev Boim instructed his office to publish a tender to build 763 housing units in Pisgat Zeev and 121 housing units at Har Homa, an area Palestinians refer to as Jabal Abu Ghneim.
Palestinians say settlement expansion around Jerusalem could cut off their access to the holy city and carve up the West Bank in a way that would deny them a contiguous state.
Last Mod: 15 Haziran 2008, 13:19