Israel's housing minister has given final approval to construct nearly 1,200 apartments in Jewish settlements, just three days before Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are to resume in Jerusalem. Today's announcement said the new homes would be built in settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in 1967. The Palestinians want to establish their state in those areas, as well as the Gaza Strip. Housing Minister Uri Ariel said nearly 800 apartments will be built in east Jerusalem and nearly 400 in several large West Bank settlements.
There was no immediate Palestinian comment, though the announcement was bound to deepen the atmosphere of distrust as the two sides head into talks after a five-year freeze. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had long insisted he would not resume talks without an Israeli settlement freeze. In the end, he relented under intense US pressure. Still, he's made clear he won't tolerate the presence of "a single Israeli" in a Palestinian state. Meanwhile, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu underwent successful hernia surgery yesterday, reports the AP; he's expected to be released from the hospital today. (Read more Israel stories.)