While it was not clear if he was referring to the rededication ceremony of the Hurva Synagogue in the Old City or to the approval of the new east Jerusalem housing plan, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Monday that Israel's actions in Jerusalem were "absurd, an evasion, maneuvering and an attempt to suffocate the Palestinians."

Gheit said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu seemed to have a desire for peace when he visited Egypt in December.

"But the recent measures revealed that there is nothing new, only an a desire to waste time. This requires a stance from the international community," the Egyptian foreign minister said, adding that "Israel must know there is a price to pay."


Despite ongoing criticism by the United States over the approval of 1,600 new homes in east Jerusalem's Ramat Shlomo last week, Netanyahu said earlier Monday that construction in the capital would continue as usual.

"Construction in Jerusalem will continue in any part of the city as it has during the last 42 years," Netanyahu stressed at the Likud faction meeting.

"In the past 40 years, there was no government that limited construction in any Jerusalem area or neighborhood," Netanyahu said. "Establishing Jewish neighborhoods did not hurt Jerusalem's Arab residents and was not at their expense."

The prime minister said Israel was committed to the 10-month building moratorium in the West Bank.

At the Labor faction meeting, Defense Minister Ehud Barak also referred to the crisis with Washington, saying that "the government must work so the crisis will be forgotten and the talks get back on track," and explaining how he was working to decrease the tensions.

"I just had a meeting at the Knesset with Fred Hoff, aide to [US special Mideast envoy George] Mitchell, an American diplomat who has been working with us for many years, as well as with US Ambassador to Israel James Cunningham."

Barak told the faction that, "we discussed the necessary steps and possible ways to abate the recent tensions and resume the negotiations with the Palestinians."

The negotiations, Barak said, are "supremely needed and are an issue that Labor believes in. It's one of the reasons we are in the government."

Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.

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