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Middle East Briefs: 942 homes to be built in East Jerusalem

JERUSALEM — Israel has advanced the process of building 942 more settler homes in East Jerusalem under a new fast-track plan to tighten its grip on the territory, which the Palestinians claim as the capital of a future state.

A government planning committee Monday moved the project to the advanced stage of asking contractors to submit bids to build them, the Interior Ministry said Tuesday.

Once a bid is awarded, construction can begin on the project in the Gilo area, though it can take months, if not longer, to reach that point.

An additional 300 units can be built after further planning, said attorney Daniel Seidemann, an expert on Jerusalem construction who sees the building as an obstacle to peacemaking.

About 40,000 Israelis live in Gilo.

Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said the new Israeli announcement is a "red line" that would block the chance for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which a Palestinian state would be established alongside Israel.

"The Palestinian Authority will take all the possible means available to respond to this," Mr. Abu Rdeneh said.

The statement was posted on the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.

The newly approved homes are among more than 5,000 new settler homes in East Jerusalem that Israel pressed ahead over the past week.

Palestinians do not recognize Israel's 1967 annexation of the territory and say any Israeli construction there undermines their claims to it. The international community has not recognized Israel's 1967 annexation of East Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a settlement construction push to punish the Palestinians after the United Nations recognized a de facto Palestinian state in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip last month.

IRAN

Iran begins naval war games

TEHRAN — Iran on Tuesday launched naval maneuvers in the Persian Gulf, and announced plans for another exercise in the strategic Strait of Hormuz later this week, media reports said.

Revolutionary Guards naval units began a four-day exercise inside Iranian waters at South Pars, a joint gas field between Iran and Qatar, a Guards spokesman was quoted as saying by the Fars News Agency.

The drill, dubbed "Fajr 91," is aimed at honing "capabilities in executing defensive and security scenarios," Adm. Alireza Nasseri said without elaborating.

The Guards are tasked with defending Iran's territorial waters in the Gulf.

The regular navy, meanwhile, on Friday will begin an exercise dubbed "Velayat 91," covering an area that includes the Strait of Hormuz, the Sea of Oman and parts of the Indian Ocean, navy Adm. Habibollah Sayari said in remarks reported by the ISNA news agency.

Warships, submarines and missile defense systems will be used and tested during the exercise, Adm. Sayari said.

"We will definitely respect the maritime border of our neighbors, and conduct the maneuvers based on international law," Adm. Sayari said. "Iran aims to demonstrate its defensive naval capabilities by conducting this exercise, and send a message of peace and friendship to regional countries."

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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