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Israel confirms plans to seize West Bank land

Land covers 380 acres in the Jordan Valley close to Jericho, area where Israel has many settlement farms built on Palestinians lands

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Israel confirmed on Thursday it was planning to appropriate a large tract of fertile land in the occupied West Bank, close to Jordan, a move likely to exacerbate tensions with Western allies and already drawing international condemnation.

In an email sent to Reuters, COGAT, a unit of Israel’s Defense Ministry, said the political decision to seize the territory had been taken and “the lands are in the final stages of being declared state lands”.

The appropriation, covers 154 hectares (380 acres) in the Jordan Valley close to Jericho, an area where Israel already has many settlement farms built on land Palestinians seek for a state. It is the largest land seizure since August 2014.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon denounced the move and Palestinian officials said they would push for a resolution at the United Nations against Israel’s settlement policies.

“Settlement activities are a violation of international law and run counter to the public pronouncements of the government of Israel supporting a two-state solution to the conflict,” Ban said in a statement.

The land, in an area fully under Israeli civilian and military control and already used by Jewish settlers to farm dates, is situated near the northern tip of the Dead Sea.

Palestinian officials denounced the seizure.

“Israel is stealing land especially in the Jordan Valley under the pretext it wants to annex it,” Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, told Reuters. “This should be a reason for a real and effective intervention by the international community to end such a flagrant and grave aggression which kills all chances of peace.”

The United States, whose ambassador angered Israel this week with criticism of its West Bank policy, said it was strongly opposed to any moves that accelerate settlement expansion.

“We believe they’re fundamentally incompatible with a two-state solution and call into question, frankly, the Israeli government’s commitment to a two-state solution,” Deputy State Department spokesman Mark Toner said on Wednesday.