Israel has announced it will build a large housing project in East Jerusalem as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visited with Israeli leaders as part of U.S. efforts to revive Middle East peace talks.
Israel's Interior Ministry announced Tuesday it had approved construction of 1,600 new housing units. The decision was immediately criticized by Palestinian negotiators who said it could destroy efforts to start indirect talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
The construction will take place in a Jewish neighborhood known as Ramat Shlomo which is situated in East Jerusalem. The area was captured by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and later annexed in a move not recognized by the international community.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem to serve as the capital of a future state, but Israel claims the entire city as its "eternal capital."
U.S. officials have not commented on the development which took place as Mr. Biden was ending talks with Israeli leaders.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Biden said he welcomed the beginning of indirect talks between Israelis and Palestinians, calling the development a "moment of opportunity" for the peace process.
No date has yet been set for the beginning of the talks.
Mr. Biden travels to the occupied West Bank of Wednesday for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbbas.
U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell held separate meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders Monday. He urged them to refrain from statements or actions that may inflame tensions or influence the outcome of the upcoming talks.
Palestinian and Israeli officials agreed this week to negotiate through U.S. mediators following a 14-month break in the process.
Palestinian leaders ended direct talks with Israel in December 2008 after Israeli forces launched an offensive against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.
On Monday, Israel approved construction of 112 new homes in a settlement in the occupied West Bank.