Israel advances housing plan, Palestine threatens war crime charges


Israel is moving forward with plans for two major settlement projects in east Jerusalem, a spokeswoman said Tuesday, even as a senior Palestinian official warned that his government could pursue war crime charges if Israel doesn't halt settlement activities.

International anger over Israeli settlement construction has snowballed in recent days, following last week's UN recognition of a state of Palestine — in lands Israel occupied in 1967 — as a non-member observer in the General Assembly.

Israel retaliated for UN recognition of Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem by announcing plans to build 3,000 homes in settlements on war-won land, as well as preparations for construction of an especially sensitive project near Jerusalem, known as E-1.

The Israeli reprisal has thrust Israel's strongest Western allies into an unusually harsh showdown with the Jewish state.

On Tuesday, Australia summoned Israel's ambassador in protest, a day after five European countries took a similar step.

Israel's deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, on Tuesday played down the international response, saying Israel isn't happy about it but that "it's not the end of the world".

UN recognition could enable the Palestinians to gain access to the International Criminal Court and seek war crimes charges against Israel for its construction of settlements for Jews on war-won land.

Last week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he's not going to turn to the ICC "unless we were attacked" and that he informed many countries, including the United States, of this position.

However, Abbas spoke before Israel announced its latest settlement plans. The E-1 project, in particular, is seen as a threat to any Israeli-Palestinian partition deal. It would include over 3,500 homes, cut off east Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and drive a wedge between the northern and southern West Bank, eroding the possibility of a viable Palestinian state.

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