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Israel approves settler homes in same area condemned by Biden during 2010 visit

More than 500 units approved for construction in occupied East Jerusalem, including 130 in Ramat Shlomo
Ramat Shlomo is the same site where settlement expansion plans unveiled during a visit by then-US Vice President Joe Biden angered Washington (AFP)

More than 500 settler units have been approved for construction in occupied East Jerusalem on Wednesday, just days after the Israeli prime minister ordered the construction of 800 new settler homes in the West Bank.

Israel's state broadcaster Kan said that 400 units have been approved in the Gilo neighbourhood of the city and 130 in Ramat Shlomo.

Ramat Shlomo is the same site where settlement expansion plans unveiled during a visit by then-US Vice President Joe Biden angered Washington.

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In March 2010, Israel announced plans to build 1,600 homes in the neighbourhood, which adjoins the Palestinian neighbourhoods of Shuafat and Beit Hanina.

That announcement came as Biden was visiting Israel, provoking fierce US opposition and souring ties between the two countries for months.

Wednesday's move comes as Netanyahu, who used US President Donald Trump's four years in office to pursue staunchly right-wing and pro-settler policies, is back on the campaign trail, as he seeks to secure victory in a March election.

Biden, who will become president next week, opposes Israeli settlement expansion and has vowed to restore aid to the Palestinians, which was cut by Trump.

'Severe housing crisis'

The second announcement in three days looks to be a sign that the huge expansion of illegal settlements over the past four years may continue unabated during Biden's time in office.

Responding to the report, Ir Amim, an Israeli group advocating fair treatment for Palestinians in Jerusalem, said: "2021 continues the trend of the past year: huge construction volumes for Jews only in Jerusalem. 

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"The [Israeli] state refuses to approve the plans in the Palestinian neighbourhoods and thus a severe housing crisis is created in East Jerusalem."

Kan also reported that it had been announced on Tuesday that a special committee would convene on Wednesday to approve the permanent structure of the US embassy in Jerusalem.

Last year, Biden said he would keep the US embassy in Israel in Jerusalem if elected president, despite previously calling Trump's controversial decision to move the office from Tel Aviv "short-sighted and frivolous". 

Netanyahu's office pushed for the unusual introduction of two plans for approval on Wednesday, Kan said, the establishment of embassy complexes in the Allenby complex and also in the Arnona neighbourhood in the city. 

A source close to the details of the plan told Kan that the decision was made because the Americans had not yet decided where the structure will be.

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