israel palestine jerusalem body search 2016
Israeli border police officers perform a body search on a Palestinian youth at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old CityREUTERS/Ammar Awad

Prime Minister David Cameron has condemned the construction of illegal settlements in East Jerusalem as "genuinely shocking" and called on the Israeli government to reverse plans to build more homes on Palestinian land. Cameron said he remained a friend of Israel but had been shocked at what he saw in East Jerusalem, which was annexed by Israel in 1967 and is recognised as Palestinian by the United Nations.

Replying to a question about the plight of the Palestinians by Labour MP' Imran Hussain in the House of Commons, Cameron said: "I am well known for being a strong friend of Israel, but I have to say the first time I visited Jerusalem and had a proper tour around that wonderful city and saw what had happened with the effective encirclement of East Jerusalem, occupied East Jerusalem, it is genuinely shocking."

Cameron went on: "What this government has consistently done and gone on doing is saying yes, we are supporters of Israel, but we do not support illegal settlements, we do not support what is happening in East Jerusalem and it's very important that this capital city is maintained in the way that it was in the past."

The prime minister's comments are likely to provoke anger in Israel, where the government led by Benjamin Netanyahu insists on the right to build anywhere in the city. The building of settlements in Occupied Palestinian territory has however been one of the biggest stumbling blocks to any new peace deal, and the United Nations has accused Israel of "a policy of ethnic cleansing [that] was pushing Palestinians out of the city".

The expanding settlements led to calls for a ban on the sale of Israeli goods from the occupied territories, which Cameron's government banned. That drew thanks from the Netanyahu administration. However Cameron's latest comments may not be as well received in Tel Aviv.