Israel's decision on Sunday to approve a plan for a new settlement in Jerusalem has aroused a chorus of world criticism and warnings it could block the faltering peace talks.
In a statement issued by his spokesperosn on Monday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his concern over the Israeli government's approval of a resumption of the construction of 750 housing units in the West Bank settlement of Givat Ze'ev.
"Any settlement expansion is contrary to Israel's obligations under the Road Map and to international law," the statement said.
"The secretary-general calls on the government of Israel to halt settlement expansion and reiterates that the fulfillment of Road Map obligations by both parties is an important measure underpinning the political process between them," it said.
For the initial stage of the project known as Agan Ha'ayalot, contractors were given permission to begin work on 330 units and to complete 200 units on which work had already begun before the project was frozen in 2000, according to the Construction and Housing Ministry. But the intention, the ministry's spokesman said, was to allow for the completion of all 750 units.
The Bush administration said the plan does not help the progress of U.S.-backed peace talks.
After a meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters that the U.S. policy on the expansion of settlements in disputed areas is well known, and that it is important to keep the atmosphere positive.
Earlier, Rice's spokesman called Sunday's announcement unhelpful. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack noted that Rice had spoken to Israel's defense minister twice in two days.
Meanwhile, Javier Solana, the EU's foreign and security affairs chief, said the bloc remained committed to supporting the peace process despite recent violence casting a shadow over the peace effort launched at the Annapolis summit.
"The position of the European Union is to continue to do the utmost to move the peace process forward," Solana said after discussing the Middle East with EU foreign ministers.