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Israel advances plans for nearly 4,500 West Bank settler homes: report

JERUSALEM – Israel advanced plans on Thursday for 4,427 housing units for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, an Israeli non-governmental organisation said.

The Civil Administration's high planning committee gave final approval to 2,791 units and initial endorsement for another 1,636 units, said Peace Now, an organisation that closely monitors Israeli settlement building.

"This is bad news for Israel and deepens the occupation, making it harder to achieve future peace," Hagit Ofran of Peace Now said.

The report of further expansion comes amid heightened tensions in the West Bank, one day after veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Aklehshe was shot dead during an Israeli army raid in clashes in the Jenin refugee camp.

The United States has said it "strongly" opposes such new construction in the West Bank.

Israel seized the West Bank and east Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967.

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Since then, nearly 700,000 Israelis have moved into settlements that most of the international community regard as illegal.

Last week, US State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter referred to Thursday's planning meeting, stressing that "Israel's programme of expanding settlements deeply damages the prospect for a two-state solution."

The housing plans are scattered throughout a large swathe of the West Bank known as Area C, where Israel exercises military and planning control.

Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem has continued under every Israeli government since 1967.

However, construction accelerated in the last few years under former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with a significant boom during former president Donald Trump's US administration, which Palestinians accused of egregious pro-Israel bias.

While Prime Minister Naftali Bennett ousted Netanyahu, leading an ideologically diverse coalition, he is the former head of a settler lobby group and opposes Palestinian statehood.

"It's disappointing that this government that promised change is following similar policies to the government of Netanyahu," said Ofran.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, a member of Bennett's right-wing Yamina party, said the news Thursday was a "day of celebration for the settler movement."

Artmotion S.Africa

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