Israel to announce new settlements, release Palestinian prisoners

The move marks the third time Israel releases prisoners to coicncide with settlement expansion plans

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Israel will announce its plans for a new settlement development next week, an official said Thursday.

The announcement will coincide with its release of Palestinian prisoners, the third group to be released as part of peace talks.

"The Israeli government will announce tenders for new construction in the West Bank and in east Jerusalem which will coincide with the release of a third group of Palestinian prisoners," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The move comes despite U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry calls for ‘maximum restraint in announcing new construction,’ on settlements.

"We will not stop, even for a moment, building our country and becoming stronger, and developing... the settlement enterprise," Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu told members of his rightwing Likud party last week.

Marriv daily quoted an unnamed top official who said Netanyahu originally agreed to delay the announcement but changed his mind after convinced the move would be “a signal of weakness.”

Palestinians have stated many times that the expansion of Israeli settlements could irreparably damage the U.S.-brokered peace talks that resumed in July after a three year hiatus.

Israel is set to release 26 Palestinian prisoners on Sunday, in line with commitments to the peace process which also required both sides to negotiate for nine months.

Under the agreement, Israel committed to free 104 Palestinian prisoners. It was already released 52 prisoners in two batches and will release the third on Dec. 29. The final group will be released in March 2014.

The previous two batches of prisoner releases were both accompanied by announcements to begin construction on new settlements on the land that Palestinians are seeking to be part of its future state.

The plans to expand construction, 1,500 in August and 2,000 in October, angered Palestinian officials who said it undermined the peace process and received condemnation from the international community.

Cross-border exchanges between Israel and Gaza have increased in recently in which Israeli has blamed Islamist movement Hamas.

Netanyahu has expressed disappointment that Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has failed to condemn the latest attacks on Israelis.

(With AFP)

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