Israel approves more East Jerusalem housing before Kerry talks

JERUSALEM Wed Jun 26, 2013 3:05pm EDT

An Israeli flag is seen as labourers work on a construction site in a Jewish settlement near Jerusalem known to Israelis as Har Homa and to Palestinians as Jabal Abu Ghneim May 7, 2013. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

An Israeli flag is seen as labourers work on a construction site in a Jewish settlement near Jerusalem known to Israelis as Har Homa and to Palestinians as Jabal Abu Ghneim May 7, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Ronen Zvulun

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel on Wednesday authorized construction of 69 housing units in a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, a decision that may upset U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's push to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Kerry, in the region for the fifth time since March, is due to meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Thursday to try to win agreement to renew negotiations that broke down in 2010.

Brachie Sprung, a spokeswoman for the Israeli municipality in Jerusalem, said the city planning commission had approved 69 housing units in Har Homa, an East Jerusalem settlement built more than a decade ago which now houses 12,000 Israelis.

Sprung said the panel had also issued building permits for 22 homes in two Palestinian-populated districts.

Settlement construction has been a main stumbling block in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations aimed at establishing a Palestinian state on land Israel captured in the 1967 war.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem soon after the war in a move never recognized internationally.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be capital of the state they seek in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. They say Israel must stop building settlements before peace talks resume.

"Resumption of negotiation requires a cessation of all settlement activities," the Palestine Liberation Organisation said in a statement this week.

Israel's housing minister said this month that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had quietly halted housing starts in settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since March, but has continued with projects already under way.

(Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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