Israel approves 300 new homes in occupied West Bank
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Israel gave final approval plans to build 300 new homes in a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, a move the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) promptly denounced as a war crime.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement that the “immediate construction of 300 housing units” had been approved at the Beit El settlement site in the West Bank, adding that planning permission for another 413 homes in annexed East Jerusalem had also been granted.
Settlements in the West Bank are viewed as major impediments to peace negotiations with Palestinians, who see the land as part of a future independent state, and Western nations have called on Israel to halt such projects.
"These settlement measures and war crimes are part of a plan by Israeli leaders to impose a 'Greater Israel' on historic Palestine and destroy the two-state solution and the chance for peace," Hanan Ashrawi, a senior PLO official, in a statement from her office.
The go-ahead for the construction of the new homes follows pressure on the Israeli government by right-wing Jewish groups who have been left angered by a court order for the destruction of two vacant apartment blocks at the Beit El site.
Dozens of Jewish settlers have gathered over the past several days at Beit El to protest against the demolition, which began on Wednesday. Israel’s Supreme Court ruled the two partially-built dwellings were constructed illegally on Palestinian-owned land.
Live television footage from Beit El showed settlers, who had scuffled earlier with police at the site, watching an excavator tear into the buildings but not intervening.
Netanyahu had said he opposed the demolition of the housing units under construction.
Ultra-nationalists in Netanyahu’s governing coalition had urged him to press ahead with the 300-home project, first announced three years ago and slated for a different tract of land in Beit El, as compensation for the demolition.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, of the right-wing Jewish Home party, hailed the decision to go ahead with the homes’ construction.
"This decision is a Zionist response," he said. "This is the way in which we will build our country."
Netanyahu holds only a one-seat majority in parliament following March elections and settler groups wield significant influence in his government. Settler leaders have been lobbying the prime minister over the past few weeks to step up housing construction on the West Bank by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International released a report Wednesday saying there was “strong evidence” of war crimes being committed during an Israeli assault in the Gaza Strip during last year's war in the Palestinian territory.
The rights group accused Israel of ‘displaying a shocking disregard for civilian lives” when it bombarded the Gaza Strip city of Rafah on August 1 last year in response to the capture of one of its soldiers, Lieutenant Hadar Goldin.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)