Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday that he was promoting the building of some 5,200 new Jewish homes in highly sensitive areas of East Jerusalem, in a move likely to further escalate tensions with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu made the remark during a visit to Har Homa, a settlement neighborhood of Jerusalem, where he said 2,200 housing units would be constructed in the neighborhood and 3,000 in another one called Givat Hamatos in Jerusalem. The Israeli leader also vowed to expand Har Homa to the equivalent of “an average-sized city in Israel” by drawing some 12,000 Jewish residents, bringing the total population of the neighborhood to around 50,000. “We are connecting all parts of the united Jerusalem, the rebuilt Jerusalem,” he said, referring to the eastern part of the holy city, which Israel captured along with the rest of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East war.

Shortly after the war, Israel annexed East Jerusalem, claiming it part of its “indivisible capital,” a move that had never been recognized by the international community until U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017. Both Har Homa and Givat Hamatos are located on some of the last lands connecting the Palestinian areas of the West Bank and East Jerusalem which the Palestinians regard as the capital of their future state.

In the past, the expansion of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank sparked international condemnations, partly restraining Israeli construction there. However, the move sped up recently, especially after Trump released his Middle East peace plan. It is worth noting that Israelis will head to their third elections in a year on March 2, where the long-time Israeli prime minister is seeking to be re-elected, though he slightly lags in polls behind his main rival Benny Gantz.

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