Israeli authorities dismiss recent media reports announcing a settlement freeze had been ordered in East Jerusalem (al-Quds).
The Israeli media reported earlier in the week a direct order from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against new construction in East al-Quds under US pressure for a settlement freeze on occupied Palestinian lands.
However, the Israeli mayor of al-Quds, Nir Barkat, issued an uncompromising message on the issue in a Washington visit, dashing hopes of any halt to the settlement expansion plans.
"There’s no freeze," he said during his tour of the US Congress on Wednesday. "There’s a demand from Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem to build, and we’re not going to stop it. It’s illegal to stop it."
He acknowledged a "slowdown" in construction works amid widespread condemnation from the international community which came as a result of Israel’s approval of plans for 1,600 new settlement units in East al-Quds in March.
Washington had a major share of the criticism as the Israeli Interior Ministry’s announcement came during a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden, who was in the region to help promote indirect Israeli-Palestinian talks.
Speaking to reporters after a meeting with Republican congressmen, Barkat said East al-Quds construction has been paused out of respect for the US, adding that workers were now "back to business."
Meanwhile, the Jerusalem District Planning and Construction Committee plans to convene a meeting next week, its first since the start of the settlement row in March.
Israel has so far ignored calls by Palestinians and the US for a halt to settlement activities in the West Bank and, in particular, al-Quds, which it claims as its "eternal, indivisible" capital.