Preparatory ground work for the construction of some 1,600 planned housing units in east Jerusalem’s Givat Hamatos neighborhood began on Sunday. Heavy machinery and tools were spotted at the construction site for the first time since the plan was approved in September 2014, Channel 10 news reported.Jerusalem City Councilman Arieh King, who is also the chairman of the Israel Land Fund, a right-wing NGO, praised the move in a Facebook live stream from the site.“All this area behind me will be used to build 1,600 housing units for Jews. We had the privilege to redeem this land,” he said.“This is how a neighborhood begins – this is how a settlement starts,” he added, while presenting the heavy machinery.Givat Hamatos is located in southeast Jerusalem beyond the Green Line, between Bethlehem and east Jerusalem neighborhoods. The approval of the plans in the past led to harsh criticism by the Obama administration and the European Union, which argued that it will prevent continuity of Palestinian settlement, cutting off the southern part of the West Bank from Jerusalem and the rest of its northern part.Left-wing NGO Peace Now said in response: “The preparation for a tender in Givat Hamatos, together with Netanyahu’s statements last week regarding the construction of thousands of housing units in Ma’aleh Adumim with heavy hints towards E1, are all a part of the government’s effort to create a de facto annexation and prevent the possibility for two states on the ground. Netanyahu is taking far-reaching steps, which he has thus far avoided, and by doing so he risks [losing] the two state solution and the future of Israel.”The Construction Ministry said that it is not carrying out any construction or land-developing works in Givat Hamatos at the moment. “Over the years, ground examinations have been conducted occasionally at the site,” a response statement read. “As part of that, drilling work is taking place now, in order to check the quality of the ground, but not more than that.”“However, minister [Yoav] Galant sees in Givat Hamatos a vital strategic point for Jerusalem’s security, and he intends to continue the necessary actions needed to insure the construction of Givat Hamatos in southern Jerusalem,” the statement said.