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E. Jerusalem settler plans 'delayed over Obama visit'

Israeli soldiers unload their rifles at a ceremony at the military cemetery on Mount of Olives on April 25, 2012
Israeli soldiers unload their rifles after a memorial ceremony at the military cemetery on Mount of Olives, overlooking the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem on April 25, 2012. Israeli plans to grant final approval for a military academy on the Mount o

Israeli plans to grant final approval for a military academy in annexed east Jerusalem have been delayed to avoid tensions ahead of US President Barack Obama's visit, army radio said on Thursday.

The controversial project, to be built on the Mount of Olives, had been on the agenda of a Thursday meeting of the interior ministry's district planning committee but was taken off at the last moment, the radio said.

It said the academy plan would not be discussed until after the Obama visit on March 20-22.

The project was approved by a local committee in January but still needs the final sign-off by the district committee before tenders can be issued.

The ministry refused to comment on Thursday.

Exactly three years ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government was deeply embarrassed after the interior ministry announced plans to build 1,600 settler homes in east Jerusalem during a visit by US vice president Joe Biden.

The move triggered a furious response from the Palestinians and an unusually stern rebuke from Washington, which described the timing of the announcement, during Biden's visit, as "insulting."

Netanyahu subsequently apologised and ordered an inquiry into the timing of the announcement.

Last week, Maariv said Netanyahu had ordered that all bureaucratic approvals of new settlement construction be suspended until after Obama's visit in a move "whose purpose is not to embarrass the political establishment during the president's visit."

Hagit Ofran of Israel's Peace Now settlement watchdog said there was "no doubt" the delay was linked to Obama's visit.

"Building a military collect in the Palestinian part of Jerusalem in an area as sensitive and disputed as that only undermines the idea of two states for two peoples," she told AFP.

Several important churches are located on the Mount of Olives, as well as the Garden of Gethsemane where the New Testament says Jesus was arrested before his crucifixion.

The mount also holds religious significance for Jews, who believe the Messiah will arrive at the site.

Israel captured the eastern half of the city during the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognised internationally, but the Palestinians want east Jerusalem as capital of their future state.

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