Authorities gave preliminary approval Wednesday for construction of 200 new homes in a Jewish area of East Jerusalem, a move that could ratchet up already heightened tensions in the city.
Brachie Sprung, a spokeswoman for the municipality, said city officials approved 200 homes in the Ramot neighborhood.
Sprung said the approval, by the Jerusalem Local Planning and Building Committee, was just a preliminary stage of the planning process — meaning construction would be years away.
Although located in northwest Jerusalem, the Ramot neighborhood straddles the Green Line that marked Israel’s pre-1967 boundaries, which means some of its area is on land that the Palestinians want as part of a future state.
Sprung also said city officials approved an additional 174 homes for construction in the capital’s Arab neighborhoods. The Israel National News site said the new Arab homes would be in Beit Safafa and Beit Hanina.
City councilor Yosef Pepe Alalu told AFP that plans to build in the Ramot neighborhood would cause further tensions.
“This is a new building plan and we are at the preliminary stage,” said Alalu of the left-wing Meretz party. “It is a decision which is going to cause great harm.”
Lior Amihai, a spokesman for settlement watchdog Peace Now, also denounced the move.
“This is terrible — and in the middle of such a sensitive period,” he told AFP.
The decision came shortly before US Secretary of State John Kerry was to arrive in neighboring Jordan on a mission aimed at restoring calm in the Holy Land after weeks of unrest.
Much of the recent violence has stemmed from tensions surrounding the Temple Mount, a sensitive holy site revered by Muslims and Jews. The collapse of US-brokered peace talks, Israel’s bloody war last summer in the Gaza Strip and continued Israeli settlement construction in east Jerusalem have added to it.
Earlier this month the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee approved the construction of 500 apartments in the capital’s Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, also over the Green Line in East Jerusalem. The US swiftly condemned the decision to go ahead with the project.
Any Israeli construction for Jewish areas of East Jerusalem risks setting off a diplomatic firestorm — especially in the current fragile environment.
Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 and maintains that it is now part of the unified capital of Israel, a move that is not internationally recognized.
The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as their capital. The international community does not recognize Israeli sovereignty in the area and opposes settlement construction.
The Israeli announcement came before Kerry was to arrive in Jordan and meet with King Abdullah II and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the situation in Jerusalem. There was no immediate plan for Kerry to travel to Israel.
In the latest unrest, an attack against a mosque in a West Bank village earlier Wednesday ignited a fire that destroyed its first floor. Faraj al-Naasan, the mayor of the village of Mughayer, north of Ramallah, blamed Jewish settlers for the blaze.
Israeli police also said someone threw a Molotov cocktail at an ancient synagogue in the Israeli-Arab town of Shfaram late Tuesday night, causing light damage.
Times of Israel and AFP contributed to this report.