Israel to expand two settlements with over 1,000 new housing units
Published Thursday, June 13, 2013
Israeli settlers are seeking approval for over 1,000 new housing units in the northern West Bank settlements of Itamar and Bruchin, Israel media reported on Thursday.
The Jerusalem Post said that plans to build 538 units in Itamar and legalize 137 existing units were submitted to regional authorities this week for review. Haaretz daily put the numbers at 537 and 130 respectively.
Itamar is a relatively small, isolated settlement southeast of the West Bank city of Nablus and surrounded by Palestinian villages.
The planned new construction would enlarge Itamar almost five-fold.
The Israeli newspaper also said that submitted for review were plans for 550 new housing units in Bruchin, a former wildcat outpost authorized retroactively in April in a decision which brought a statement of "concern" from EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
Settlement watchdog Peace Now said that while the Itamar expansion had been expected, the scope of the planned building at Bruchin came as a surprise.
"In Bruchin there are about 50 permanent homes and another 50 mobile homes," the NGO's Hagit Ofran told AFP.
"I didn't know that they were going to propose enlarging the settlement tenfold," she said.
The latest moves come as the United States' Secretary of State works to rekindle dormant peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians where Israeli settlement building is a prime sticking point.
Abbas has said that he will not resume talks until Israel stops settlement construction.
Netanyahu on Monday told a parliamentary committee that Israel was building in the West Bank and would continue to do so.
"We need to be smart not just right," Netanyahu told MPs. "Settlement in the blocs will not significantly affect the ability to reach an agreement."
In March 2011 at Itamar two Palestinians stabbed to death a family of five, including a three-month-old baby in an attack that brought international condemnation.
Since then, settler leaders have been pushing for the settlement to be expanded.
Almost 520,456 settlers live in the West Bank in around 121 settlements, B'tselem an Israeli Human Rights Information Center, says.
Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem are considered illegal under international law, but Netanyahu's hawkish government – which includes far-right radicals – has insisted on expanding the settlements to the detriment of the Palestinian population.