Israel has announced the immediate construction of several hundred homes in the West Bank settlement of Beit El and in East Jerusalem. The plans are likely to draw international rebuke.
Israel gave its approval Wednesday for plans to build 300 new homes in a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, shortly after demolishing two vacant apartment blocks in the same enclave in accordance with a court order.
Jewish settlers had protested over the last several days against the demolition at Beit El settlement, but Israel's Supreme Court recently ruled that the two apartment blocks had been built illegally on Palestinian-owned land.
Ultranationalists in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's governing coalition had urged him to press ahead with the 300-home project on a different tract of land in the settlement as payback for the demolition.
The prime minister's office released a statement announcing approval the "immediate construction of 300 housing units" in the Beit El settlement near the Palestinian West Bank city of Ramallah. The statement also gave approval for the building of 413 homes in East Jerusalem.
Naftali Bennett, Israeli Education Minister and head of a pro-settler party, welcomed the announcement of the new units.
"The court's role is to judge; the government's role is to build," he said in a statement. "We will build up the land of Israel, but in a legal and appropriate way."
'Threatens the two-state solution'
Israel seized the West Bank and East Jerusalem territory in the 1967 Middle East war. Palestinians seek the territory for a state of their own. Most countries have deemed Israeli settlements in occupied land illegal.
The United States said Wednesday it was "deeply concerned" about the new settlement plans, which are likely to draw international rebuke.
"Settlement expansion threatens the two-state solution and calls into question Israel's commitment to a negotiated resolution to the conflict," the State Department said in a statement."
"The United States continues to view settlements as illegitimate and we strongly oppose steps to advance construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem," Deputy spokesman Mark Toner said.
bw/sgb (AP, Reuters)