Israel says won't retreat on settlement plan

JERUSALEM Mon Dec 3, 2012 4:26pm GMT

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel will not backtrack on a settlement expansion plan that has drawn strong international condemnation, an official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said on Monday.

"Israel will continue to stand by its vital interests, even in the face of international pressure, and there will be no change in the decision that was made," the official said.

Britain, France and Sweden summoned the Israeli ambassadors in their respective capitals to hear appeals for Netanyahu to reverse course and deep disapproval of the plan to erect 3,000 more homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Israel announced the planned settlement expansion on Friday, a day after the U.N. General Assembly granted de facto recognition to Palestinian statehood over Israeli and U.S. objections.

Such projects in the past, on land Israel captured in a 1967 war and which Palestinians seek for a future state, have routinely drawn world condemnation.

But this plan also included "preliminary zoning and planning work" for settler housing in the so-called "E1" zone east of Jerusalem.

Israeli construction there could bisect the occupied West Bank, potentially cutting Palestinians off from Jerusalem and further dimming their hopes for a contiguous state.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Douglas Hamilton)

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