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Israel approves hundreds of West Bank homes for settlers in last-minute push

China Daily | Updated: 2021-01-19 10:59

Palestinians use slingshots to hurl stones at Israeli soldiers during a protest on Friday against Israeli settlements near the West Bank city of Ramallah. MAJDI MOHAMMED/ASSOCIATED PRESS

JERUSALEM-Israel approved on Sunday plans to build hundreds of new settler homes in the occupied West Bank, projects it is advancing in the final days of the pro-settlement administration of US President Donald Trump.

The planned construction, on land captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War that Palestinians seek as part of a future state, was announced on Monday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu ordered the plans advanced and on Sunday, a government committee gave final ratification for 365 homes and preliminary approval for another 415, the Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now said while monitoring the session.

A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the construction as illegal, accusing Israel of making a "preemptive attempt ... to undermine any effort by (incoming) US President Joe Biden to relaunch the stalled peace process".

In a statement, the European Union said Israel's latest decision to advance the plans "is contrary to international law and further undermines the prospects of a viable two-state solution".

The EU statement called on Israel to "reverse these decisions on settlements and show leadership to rebuild trust and confidence between the parties, which is necessary for an eventual resumption of meaningful Israeli-Palestinian negotiations".

Jordan on Sunday also condemned Israeli authorities' approval of new settlements.

The move is a "flagrant violation of international law and international legitimacy resolutions, mainly the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334," Daifallah Fayez, the spokesman of the Jordanian Foreign Ministry, said in a statement.

The Israeli government committee's website was not immediately updated with details of Sunday's moves, which were also reported by Israel's main media outlets.

Settler leaders have voiced concern that once he takes office as president on Wednesday, Biden, a Democrat who has been critical of Israeli settlement activity in the past, will try to slow housing construction.

Peace Now said approval of the new settler housing "needlessly sets Israel on a collision course with the incoming Biden administration".

International law violation

Most countries view Israeli settlements as violating international law. They see those settlements as an obstacle to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel disputes this, citing historical, political and biblical links to the West Bank, where more than 450,000 Israeli settlers now live among 2.8 million Palestinians.

Trump has effectively backed Israel's right to build West Bank settlements by abandoning a long-held position of the United States that they break international law.

Israel has stepped up settlement construction during Trump's term. According to Peace Now, Israel approved or advanced construction of more than 12,000 settlement homes in 2020, the highest number in a single year since it began recording the data in 2012.

Trump also has won Israeli praise and drawn Palestinian anger by recognizing contested Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moving the US embassy there. US-backed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in 2014.

Separately, Israel's military said on Monday its fighter planes struck Hamas facilities in the Gaza Strip after Palestinians fired rockets at the Jewish state.

There were no reports of any damage from Palestinian rockets, with Israeli army sources indicating they had landed in the Mediterranean sea.

Agencies - Xinhua

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