Israeli officials have approved permits to build 566 settlements in occupied East Jerusalem on Sunday, (22 January) two days after US President Donald Trump assumed office.
A statement released on Sunday quoted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as saying, "There is no longer a need to coordinate construction in the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. We can build where we want and as much as we want. My vision is to enact sovereignty over all the settlements," adding that he could also allow the building of settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Jerusalem's Deputy Mayor, Meir Turgeman, told AFP "The rules of the game have changed with Donald Trump's arrival as president. We no longer have our hands tied as in the time of Barack Obama. Now we can finally build."
The newly approved permits are for building homes in settlement neighbourhoods of Pisgat Zeev, Ramat Shlomo, and Ramot, Turgeman said. He added that the city authorities approved plans that were previously held up on Netanyahu's request after a UN Security Council resolution was passed against settlement building in December.
There are plans to build as many as 11,000 other settlement homes in East Jerusalem, he stated though he could not say when they could proceed.
On Sunday, Netanyahu had his first phone conversation with President Trump and later said the conversation had been "very warm". He added he was invited to a meeting in February with Trump in Washington.
Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesperson for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said: "We strongly condemn the Israeli decision to approve the construction."
The settlements built on Palestinian land are viewed as illegal under international law and have hindered peace negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Meanwhile, the building of settlements in West Bank and East Jerusalem expanded by 23% between 2009 and 2014, Al Jazeera reported.
In December, the Obama administration refused to veto an anti-settlement resolution at the UN angering Israel.
Before assuming office, Trump also vowed to move the US embassy from capital Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He also nominated bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman to be the US ambassador to Israel, who is viewed as a supporter of the settlements.