A 10-month partial freeze on building in Israeli settlements in biblical Judea and Samaria expired at midnight Sunday, throwing into question the recently revived Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Shortly after midnight, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement calling on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to remain in the peace talks.
Israel and the U.S. are working to keep Abbas in the talks.
Abbas threatened to quit the talks if Israel resumed construction, but now reportedly will meet with the Arab League next week to discuss what to do.
Even before the freeze had officially ended, some settlers broke ground on a new kindergarten in the settlement of Kiryat Netafim and held a countdown rally in another settlement.
"For the last 10 months we have discriminated (against) our brother and sister in Judea and Samaria who could not build their homes," said Knesset Member Danny Danon. "We stop this discrimination today and we tell our Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - be strong."
In nearby Ariel, some 300 Christians from around the world gathered to support the end of the freeze. They believe the Bible says God gave the land to the Jewish people forever.
"We as sons and daughters of God should inspire the world at least as much as we can as salt and light as Jesus called us to say to them, 'This land has been given to the Jewish people and they have all the right to build," said Jan Willem van der Hoeven of the International Christian Zionist Center.
One of the biggest settlements, Ariel is close to the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv. Some have said the settlements are not a stumbling block to peace, but a way to preserve it.
"Our only way to peace for Tel Aviv is Ariel," said Eli Cohen, former Israeli Knesset Member . "If we will not have Ariel here, we will not have peace in Tel Aviv. The obstacle for the terrorism stops here."