JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Wednesday that construction would continue unabated in all of Jerusalem, as he addressed a ceremony marking the 43rd anniversary of Israel's capture of the city's Arab eastern sector.
"You can't flourish in a divided city and a flourishing city can't be divided or frozen," Netanyahu said. "We will continue to build and develop ourselves in Jerusalem."
The Palestinians have warned that continued construction in Jewish settlements in annexed Arab east Jerusalem will torpedo newly launched indirect peace talks which are being brokered by the United States.
They want to make east Jerusalem the capital of their promised state but Israel, which captured it in the 1967 Middle East war and then annexed it in a move not recognised by the international community, lays claim to the entire city as its "eternal, indivisible capital."
Each year, Israelis celebrate the anniversary, known as "Jerusalem Day", with parties, parades and solemn ceremony.
Festivities kicked off at sundown on Tuesday with an open-air concert by US funk band "Kool and the Gang" and continued through the night with prayers and gatherings.
Security was tight, with thousands of police deployed across the city to ensure the festivities went off without a hitch.
"Several thousands of police and border police have been mobilised, with the deployment of forces particularly high in the Old City," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.
On Wednesday, thousands of people, mostly nationalist-religious Jews, marched through Jerusalem to the Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism.
Netanyahu spoke in an evening memorial ceremony, attended by President Shimon Peres and other officials, at Ammunition Hill where Israeli troops fought a fierce battle with Jordanian forces in 1967.
Tensions in and around Jerusalem have soared in recent months over the deeply controversial issue of Jewish construction in east Jerusalem.
Despite US assurances to the Palestinians that Israel would freeze some settlement activity in the eastern sector for the next two years, Israel has denied making any such commitment.
"There is no agreement about freezing building in east Jerusalem and normal life in Jerusalem will continue as in every other city in Israel," Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told journalists during a visit to Tokyo.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat also insisted that there would be no halt to construction in the "united and undivided" Holy City.
"The municipal borders of Jerusalem are not negotiable and building will continue across all of the city under Israeli sovereignty," Barkat told army radio.
Israel marks Jerusalem Day in accordance with the Hebrew calendar.
It captured east Jerusalem on June 7, 1967, the third day of the Six-Day War, and unilaterally annexed it.
In 1980, Israel passed a law declaring Jerusalem its "eternal and indivisible" capital.
Israeli human rights groups say the Holy City is sharply divided and that Palestinian residents suffer from discrimination.
Jewish settlements and the status of Jerusalem are among the thorniest issues in the Middle East peace process.
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