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Israel approves three settlement outposts, thousands of homes in West Bank | Gaza News

Israel approves three settlement outposts, thousands of homes in West Bank | Gaza News

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Israel’s government has approved 5,295 new housing units in a host of illegal settlements across the occupied West Bank, as well as recognising three new settlement outposts in the Palestinian territory, according to a watchdog group.

Israeli NGO Peace Now reported the move on Thursday, a day after the group said Israel’s government has approved the largest West Bank land seizure in more than three decades.

The construction of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory is illegal under international law and settlement expansion is seen as a major hindrance to the viability of a future Palestinian state.

The new approvals are all but assured to further stoke tensions at a time when Palestinians across the occupied West Bank are facing increased raids by Israeli forces and settlers amid Israel’s continuing war in Gaza.

“Our government continues to change the rules of the game in the occupied West Bank, leading to irreversible harm,” Peace Now said in a statement on Thursday, in which it condemned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.

Smotrich, himself a settler, has overseen a major escalation in settler expansion under Netanyahu’s leadership. He is also among the far-right politicians the prime minister has come to rely on for political survival.

“This annexationist government severely undermines the security and future of both Israelis and Palestinians, and the cost of this recklessness will be paid for generations to come,” said Peace Now, which also condemned the appointment of Smotrich’s key allies to the body that approves settlements.

More than 500,000 Israeli citizens live in more than 100 settlements across the West Bank. Their existence remains a major roadblock to since-halted plans outlined in the Oslo Accords that promised the gradual transfer of Israeli-controlled areas to Palestinians.

Peace Now said the latest approved settlements, all of which have existed since the late 2010s as unofficial outposts, were Givat Hanan, Kedem Arava, and Machane Gadi in the Jordan Valley.

Israel’s Higher Planning Council (HPC) justified the approval by saying the outposts were existing “neighbourhoods” of existing settlements, despite being physically separated from those settlements, the group said.

The watchdog added that the new settlements were distinct from five other new settlements approved by the cabinet last week.

‘Totally unacceptable’

The approval of the new settlements comes just a day after Peace Now reported that Israel had declared about 23.7sq km (9.15sq miles) of land in the occupied West Bank its own so far this year, a rate the group said was unprecedented.

That included the approval of the seizure of 12.7sq km (4.9sq miles) of land in the Jordan Valley late last month.

On Thursday, Norway’s minister of foreign affairs, Espen Barth Eide, called the latest actions “totally unacceptable”.

“Norway condemns these decisions, and we call on the Government of Israel to immediately reverse them,” he said in a statement, in which he decried the goverment’s policy of “dispossession, land confiscation and establishing illegal settlements”.

Norway joined Spain and Ireland in May in becoming the latest countries to formally recognise a Palestinian state.

Settlements have also been a rare area where the US has been willing to directly confront its “ironclad” ally Israel, although critics have said Washington has neglected to use the levers at its disposal to pressure Israel.

On Tuesday, US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said “unilateral actions like settlement expansion and legalisation of outposts” were “detrimental to a two-state solution”.

“So we’ll continue to use the tools at our disposal to expose and promote accountability for those who threaten peace and stability in the region,” he said.

Both Israeli military and settler violence in the occupied West Bank has surged since Israel’s war in Gaza began. About three three million Palestinians in the territory are subjected to Israeli military rule.

Since October, at least 553 Palestinians have been killed in the occupied West Bank, with 9,510 detained, according to Palestinian officials.

At least 38,011 people have been killed in Israel’s war on Gaza since October, according to Palestinian authorities.

Israel launched the assault on Gaza after Hamas led an attack on southern Israel on October 7, killing at least 1,139 people, according to an Al Jazeera tally based on Israeli statistics.

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