Israel approves West Bank settlement expansion
More than 500,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem along with 2.5 million Palestinians
Israeli authorities have approved the construction of 829 new settler homes in the occupied West Bank.
“The construction of 829 homes has been approved by a committee of the Israeli military in charge of the West Bank,” said Lior Amihai, an official from settlement watchdog Peace Now, according to Agence France-Presse.
Israel announced in August that it had approved the construction of more than 2,000 new settler homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, and figures released in October showed construction starts had increased by 70 percent on last year in those territories.
The plans were announced despite the U.S.-brokered peace negotiations with the Palestinians began in July after a three-year break.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has warned that the ongoing settlement building by Israel in the Palestinian territories threatens the future of the Middle East peace process.
“If Israel does not go back on its latest construction plans for the settlements, that will spell a formal declaration of the end of the peace process,” Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat quoted Abbas as saying in his warning, according to AFP.
Palestinian negotiators have also offered to resign in protest against the settlement drive. But, Abbas reaffirmed the talks with Israel would continue for the full nine-month period agreed with the United States.
More than 500,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem along with 2.5 million Palestinians.
Israel’s housing minister in late October had also called for doubling the number of Jewish settler homes in the southern West Bank city of Hebron.
The flashpoint city of Hebron, home to nearly 200,000 Palestinians, also comprises some 80 settler homes in the center of town housing about 700 Jews who live under Israeli army protection.
Most countries consider the settlements Israel has built on land it captured in the 1967 Middle East war as illegal.
French President Francois Hollande, in his visit to Israel last week, called for a complete halt to Israeli settlement activities on land the Palestinians want for a future state.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has recently been on the frontline of negotiations, had urged Palestinians in August “not to react adversely” to the announcement of new settlement buildings and had stressed the importance of focusing on peace talks.
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