1,500 Units to Be Added in Settlement, Israel Says
Abir Sultan/European Pressphoto Agency
By JODI RUDOREN
Published: October 30, 2013
JERUSALEM — The Israeli government announced Wednesday that it had given final approval for 1,500 new apartments in a particularly contentious Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem and moved forward on plans for a controversial park and tourism center here, prompting Palestinian accusations that it is not taking the Washington-brokered peace talks seriously.
The construction approvals were an expected attempt to appease Israeli politicians and citizens outraged over the release of 26 Palestinian prisonerswho were convicted of murdering Israelis. The men were released overnight under the agreement that began the talks this summer.
In recent days, some right-wing lawmakers and relatives of the prisoners’ victims denounced the idea that freeing criminals was an acceptable alternative to freezing settlement construction, as the Palestinian leadership originally demanded to enter the talks.
“The attempt to link the building with the release of murderers is cynical and morally wrong,” the Jewish Home Party, which led the opposition to the prisoner release and supports settlements, said in a statement. “It would be better if the prime minister will not release murderers and will not build. This appears to be a despicable attempt to release murderers and tarnish the settlement enterprise.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made no public statement about the new construction, but he has previously said that Israel has the right to build anywhere in Jerusalem. He includes the neighborhoods that were seized in the 1967 war and later annexed, where the international community considers Jewish settlement illegal.
The 1,500 new apartments are to be added to Ramat Shlomo, a largely religious neighborhood of 20,000 on the city’s northern edge. They were originally announcedduring a 2010 visit to Jerusalem by Vice President Joseph R. Biden, causing a diplomatic crisis that dampened Israel’s relationship with the White House and Europe for months.
Israel also approved the creation of a national park on the slopes of Mount Scopus, near the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and a new tourism and archaeology center just outside the Old City, both of which Palestinians say block expansion of their neighborhoods and threaten their goal of having East Jerusalem be the capital of their future state. At the same time, plans advanced for more than 2,000 new housing units in a dozen West Bank settlements.
“Anyone who disagrees with our right to build in all parts of Jerusalem always claims that there is something problematic about the timing,” Interior Minister Gideon Saar said on Army Radio.
“I believe that building and planning in Jerusalem is something that needs to be a routine, even during negotiations with the Palestinians,” Mr. Saar said, “as it is very important for these processes to continue.”
Washington generally condemns settlement construction as an obstacle to the peace process, but Secretary of State John Kerry did not insist on a freeze on building in order to bring Israel to the table for the talks, which are entering the fourth of nine planned months. Palestinian leaders agreed to return to negotiations without a settlement freeze like the one Mr. Netanyahu assented to in 2009-10, but say the construction is anathema to resolving the long-running conflict.
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said that with the new moves toward construction, “Israel is willfully and flagrantly violating international law and the requirements of peace.” She called the announcements “an affront” to Mr. Kerry’s efforts and warned that they could “provoke parallel violence and extremism throughout the region.”
“The Israeli occupation is exposing its true intentions of creating ‘greater Israel’ rather than a two-state solution,” Ms. Ashrawi said in a statement. “The Israeli government has proven once again that it is not a partner for peace nor a member of the international community that respects the global rule of law.”
Syria military base blasts said to be Israeli strike
AMMAN/JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Syrian rebels and a U.S. official cited by CNN said on Thursday Israel had mounted a new attack on a Syrian military base but the Israeli government declined to confirm any strike.
CNN quoted an unidentified U.S. administration official on Thursday as saying Israeli warplanes struck a Syrian base near the port of Latakia, targeting missiles that Israel thought might be transferred to its Lebanese militia enemy Hezbollah
One Syrian opposition source, a defector from air force intelligence with contacts in the Latakia region, said Israel struck a strategic missile battery near a village called Ain Shikak where President Bashar al-Assad's forces kept long-range Russian missiles that are among their most powerful weapons.
"We're not commenting on these reports," an Israeli Defence Ministry spokesman said. The government has not commented publicly on at least three attacks on Syria earlier this year.
One Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he thought that Israel had indeed carried out such a strike. He stressed that he was not entirely certain, however.
Israel has repeatedly warned that it is prepared to use force to prevent advanced weapons, notably from Iran, reaching Hezbollah, which hit northern Israel with hundreds of rockets during a month-long war in 2006.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which collates reports from opposition activists, said late on Wednesday that there had been an explosion at an air defence base near Jableh, on the Mediterranean coast south of Latakia.
The Lebanese military said six Israeli jets had flown over Lebanese territory on Wednesday. Israeli aerial incursions over Lebanon are frequent, but such high numbers have in the past sometimes been an indication of military strikes against Syria.
Former Syrian intelligence agent Afaq Ahmad, a defector now in exile in France, told Reuters that contacts of his inside Syria, including in Latakia province, told him Russian-made ballistic missiles had been kept at the site that was attacked.
Noting Syria's failure to retaliate after previous Israeli action, Ahmad said: "Israel knows Assad has lost the ability to respond ... So it has been engaging in unannounced attacks on the weapons that could pose the most threat in the hands of Assad or if they are transferred to Hezbollah."
Israel struck Syrian targets near Damascus in January and twice in May and was suspected of being behind the destruction of a naval installation near Latakia in July.
The Israeli government says Iran, the main sponsor of both Assad and Hezbollah, is arming the Lebanese group. Israel, which sees Iran as bent on destroying the Jewish state, has threatened to use force against an Iranian nuclear program which Tehran denies is intended to produce atomic weapons.
(Reporting by Khaled Oweis in Amman, Dan Williams and Crispian Balmer in Jerusalem and Dominic Evans in Beirut; Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Andrew Roche)