JERUSALEM - Israel on Monday gave the green light for developers to go ahead with controversial plans to build 1,500 settler homes in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, the interior ministry told AFP.
Spokeswoman Efrat Orbach said the ministry's planning committee had told the applicants to trim their request to build 1,600 new housing units at Ramat Shlomo to 1,500 and resubmit it "for final approval".
The Palestinian leadership responded by saying it would seek a UN Security Council meeting on the Israeli plans to build the new settler homes.
The leadership was about to take "important and necessary measures against Israel's settlement building, including recourse to the UN Security Council, to prevent implementation of these decisions," president Mahmud Abbas's spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina told AFP.
The Israeli plan caused a diplomatic rift with Washington when it was first announced in 2010 as US VP Joe Biden met top Israeli officials in Jerusalem to boost Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. It has lain dormant since August 2011 but two weeks ago the ministry announced that it had been revived. Orbach said that at a Monday's meeting, the committee heard public objections and told to make changes.
"It reduced the plan from 1,600 to 1,500 and now the plan has to be resubmitted and meet the conditions in order to get final approval," she said. "It could take months more, or years."
Ramat Shlomo is a Jewish settlement in the mainly Arab eastern sector of Jerusalem which Israel seized in 1967 and later annexed in a move not recognised by the international community.
Monday's announcement will only add to international discontent caused by a separate Israeli decision to plan 3,000 more settler homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem after the Palestinians won upgraded status at the UN last month. Some of that construction is to take place in a controversial corridor of land east of Jerusalem called E1, which critics say could effectively cut off the northern West Bank from the south, and ultimately threaten the territorial contiguity and viability of a future Palestinian state.
Last week, Abbas warned that the Palestinians could pursue Israel at the ICC if it builds the new settler homes in the highly sensitive E1 area. The Palestinians' newfound UN status could potentially give them access to the ICC, sparking fears they could sue Israel for war crimes - particularly over its settlement building.
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu had warned that by going to the UN, the Palestinians had "violated" previous agreements with Israel, such as the 1993 Oslo Accords, and that his country would "act accordingly".
Meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI received Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Monday and called on all parties involved in the Middle East crisis to find the courage to work together for peace and reconciliation.
In a statement following the meeting, the Vatican said it hoped the UN's recent recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state would "encourage the commitment of the international community to finding a fair and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."