Senior Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Eriqat, cast doubts on Sunday over Israel's intentions towards peace with the Palestinians.

Eriqat's skepticism came after media reports said Israel plans on expanding Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian lands in the West Bank.  The Israeli housing ministry said today that PM Ehud Olmert has okayed construction of hundreds of housing units in the 'illegal' Israeli settlement of Giv'at Ze'aiv.

"It seems to me the Israelis are determined to put a stick in the wheel of negotiations," Eriqat said. "It will undermine the U.S. effort to revive the negotiations."

According to the ministry, the project is expected  to include the building of 750 housing units. A spokesman of PM Olmert, Mark Regev, was quoted by Ha'aretz Israeli online daily as saying " the project has been approved by previous governments and Olmert has approved it as well," and continues, "construction within large Israeli settlement blocs, which won't be affected by final status agreements with the Palestinians, will continue," Rgev explained.

Settlement activities on occupied Palestinian lands are illegal according to International Law.  The United States has long  urged Israel to refrain from such activities in order further the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.  Last month, Washington stated that it would ask for clarification from Israel over similar expansion plans in the occupied east Jerusalem.  According to the 2003 U.S-backed "Road Map" peace plan, Israel is required to halt all settlement activities.  Last November, the US hosted an Israeli-Palestinian peace summit in Annapolis, based on a two-state solution with a Palestinian state on 1967 borders, of which West Bank and East Jerusalem are integral parts.