JERUSALEM: Israel has approved plans for more than 200 new settler homes in the occupied West Bank, adding to a sharp increase in settlement projects so far this year, Israeli campaigners said on Thursday.
Israel’s government disputed the claim, saying nearly all approvals involved “upgrading existing structures” and not new construction, without providing a more detailed breakdown. Settlements are considered illegal under international law and are seen as major stumbling blocks to peace efforts since they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.
Hagit Ofran, a spokeswoman for settlement watchdog Peace Now, said the government had given the green light for at least 229 new homes, which are at various stages in the planning process.
The new units were also reported by Israeli newspapers.
The projects must pass through five administrative stages before winning final approval from Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon. An Israeli government statement said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yaalon had “not approved new construction”.
“Almost all of the permits are for upgrading existing structures,” it said.
“The small proportion of them pertaining to new construction are for the community of Ganei Modiin, which abuts the fence and which will be part of Israel in any future agreement.” Peace Now however later hit back, saying its “aerial photos illustrate that this is not the case, and much of the planning is for new housing units”.
The NGO said this week that the number of West Bank settlements Israel plans to build more than tripled in the first quarter of 2016 compared with the same period last year.
Between January and March, projects for 674 housing units passed at least one of the steps in the planning approval process, up from 194 in the first quarter of 2015, it said.
Courtesy : Dawn News