UNITED NATIONS - Amid rising tensions in the Middle East, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council that Israel’s decision to accelerate planning for some 1,000 new Jewish settler homes in occupied East Jerusalem raises serious doubts about the Israeli commitment to peace with the Palestinians.

The Israeli plans, along with Palestinian concerns about Jerusalem’s holy sites, prompted the Palestinians to ask Jordan to request an emergency Council meeting in the hope that its 15 members would condemn recent Israeli actions. But will the United States, a veto-wielding power and a close ally of Israel, allow the 15-member body to take any action is the question being asked here. Briefing the Council, Jeffrey Feltman, UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, acknowledged that recent heightened tensions over unilateral actions, provocations and access restrictions at holy sites in Jerusalem are contributing to a volatile situation, and stressed that further delay in negotiations and the pursuit of peace would only serve to deepen divisions and further exacerbate the conflict. “The status quo is not a viable option,” Feltman said. “Ignoring the calls from the international community for such negotiations for whatever excuse will only breed more violence in the region that has already seen too much of it.”

Referring to the settlements’ building plans, he said, “If pursued, these plans would once again raise grave doubts about Israel’s commitment to achieving durable peace with the Palestinians as the new settlements threaten the very viability of the future State of Palestine.”

Palestinian observer Riyad Mansour said Israeli settlements were eroding the future Palestinian state, of which East Jerusalem is to be the capital. “Every day the territorial contiguity and integrity of our state is being fragmented and undermined by such illegal actions, seriously diminishing the viability of the two-state solution,” he said. He also complained about Israel’s approach to Jerusalem, including holy sites like the Temple Mount and al-Aqsa mosque. “Jerusalem is under siege,” Mansour said, adding that Israeli provocations at al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques were “threatening to incite yet another cycle of violence.” Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor dismissed Mansour’s criticisms, telling council members that the Palestinians were propagating “half truths, myths and outright lies about Israel.” “I’m here to convey one simple truth: The people of Israel are not occupiers and we’re not settlers,” he said. “Israel is our home and Jerusalem is the eternal capital of our sovereign state.”

AFP adds: Israel’s closure of the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound to all visitors following the shooting of a Jewish hardliner is tantamount to a “declaration of war,” Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said Thursday.  “This dangerous Israeli escalation is a declaration of war on the Palestinian people and its sacred places and on the Arab and Islamic nation,” his spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina quoted him as saying.

Meanwhile, Israeli police Thursday shot dead a Palestinian suspected of an assassination attempt on a hardline campaigner for Jewish prayer rights at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound. The attack sent tensions in the city soaring to a new high, following months of almost daily clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police in Jerusalem’s occupied eastern sector.

In a bid to avoid further tensions, Israel ordered the closure of the Al-Aqsa compound to all visitors in an unprecedented move, drawing a furious response from Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, who described it as “a declaration of war.”

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday ordered a “significant increase” in police deployments in Jerusalem following an assassination attempt on a Jewish ultranationalist.

Netanyahu called for calm on both sides as rightwing groups reacted angrily to the attack by a Palestinian on Yehuda Glick, a hardliner linked to tensions at the volatile Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem. He urged the international community to act against those encouraging violence in the city, pointing the finger at Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.