Israeli defense minister backs 7,000 new West Bank settlement units

A general view picture shows a construction site in the Israeli settlement of Efrat in the Gush Etzion settlement block in the Israeli-occupied West Bank January 28, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 06 May 2020

Israeli defense minister backs 7,000 new West Bank settlement units

  • Permits for 7,000 new homes in a settlement near Bethlehem have been issued

JERUSALEM: Israel’s Defense Minister on Wednesday issued building permits for 7,000 new homes in a settlement near Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, sparking Palestinian condemnation.
Naftali Bennett announced he had “approved the construction of thousands of new housing units” in the Efrat settlement near Bethlehem in the southern West Bank.
The ministry indicated the land would allow the creation of a new neighborhood called Givat Eitam.
“Construction momentum should not be stopped for a moment,” he said.
The rightwing hard-liner is expected to leave his post in the coming days.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his former rival Benny Gantz have agreed to form a unity government which will see Netanyahu stay as premier for 18 months, after which Gantz is meant to take over for an equivalent period.
While Netanyahu is in power, centrist Gantz is expected to serve as defense minister, replacing Bennett.
Brian Reeves from the anti-settlement Israeli NGO Peace Now said Bennett’s decision meant the building process was “in motion” even if Gantz, who is less supportive of settlement expansion, takes over.
The project, which would further squeeze the already restricted city of Bethlehem, still has to pass through the Israeli housing ministry and could also be challenged in the courts, Reeves added.
Since President Donald Trump came to power in 2017, the US government has ceased to criticize Israeli settlement expansion and has supported proposals to annex parts of the West Bank.
The Palestine Liberation Organization immediately denounced a new “violation of international law.”
“This is an outrageous exploitation of the COVID-19 global pandemic to advance the illegal settler project,” senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement.
Over the past decade, the population in Jewish settlements in the West Bank has increased 50 percent, according to official data from Israeli authorities.
More than 450,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements, with around 200,000 in East Jerusalem.
Settlements in both areas are considered illegal under international law.


Iran records highest COVID-19 cases in over month

Updated 10 min 36 sec ago

Iran records highest COVID-19 cases in over month

  • Latest count takes the total cases identified in Iran since late February to 314,786
  • Iran made wearing masks mandatory in enclosed spaces
TEHRAN: Iran confirmed Tuesday over 2,700 new COVID-19 infections, its highest single-day count in more than a month, as the health ministry called for those without masks to be fined.
Deaths and infections from the novel coronavirus have been on a rising trajectory in the Islamic republic since hitting a months-long low in May.
This has prompted Iran to make wearing masks mandatory in enclosed spaces and reimpose restrictions lifted gradually since April to reopen the economy.
Despite the rule, people without masks can still be seen inside the capitals’ shops and banks, and state television often criticizes them for doing so.
“In the past 24 hours, new confirmed cases were reported to be 2,751,” health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said in televised remarks.
The number is the highest since June 5, when the ministry reported 2,886 infections in one day.
The latest count takes the total cases identified in Iran since late February to 314,786, Lari added.
Another 212 people died from the virus during the past 24 hours, bringing the overall toll to 17,617.
Iran’s deputy health minister called for those who fail to obey the mask rules to be fined, as the only penalty currently in place is the refusal of service in public places.
“Deterrent methods must naturally be used, one of which is fining those not wearing masks,” ISNA news agency quoted Iraj Harirchi as saying.
But those “financially unable to buy masks must be exempted,” he added, without elaborating how that could be determined.
Iran has suffered a sharp economic downturn since US President Donald Trump withdrew from a landmark nuclear agreement in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation.
It has seen a drop in non-oil exports compounded by a tumbling currency and runaway inflation, piling new pressure on those already dependent on government cash handouts.
Masks in Iran cost from about 15 US cents for simple surgical ones to 68 cents for multilayered ones with respirators, while the minimum wage is currently $2.60 per day.