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.


Israel warplanes strike Gaza following rocket fire

Updated 18 min 47 sec ago

Israel warplanes strike Gaza following rocket fire

  • Fighter jets and other aircraft struck a “weapons manufacturing site and underground infrastructures”
  • Hamas reported no casualties from the Israeli strikes on the Nuseirat refugee camp and the southern city of Khan Yunis

JERUSALEM: Israeli warplanes struck suspected Hamas military targets in the Gaza Strip before dawn on Friday following rocket fire from the blockaded Palestinian territory.
Fighter jets and other aircraft struck a “weapons manufacturing site and underground infrastructures” operated by Islamist group Hamas, which has controlled the territory since 2007, the Israeli army said.
Hamas reported no casualties from the Israeli strikes on the Nuseirat refugee camp and the southern city of Khan Yunis.
Two rockets had been launched at Israel late Thursday, without causing any casualties or damage.
One was intercepted by Israeli air defenses, while the other hit open ground, the army said.
The last reported rocket attack from Gaza was on Tuesday night.
It came after the army announced it had found a new tunnel that crosses “dozens of meters (yards) into Israel” from Gaza.
The next day the army said the tunnel belonged to Hamas.
Authorities have discovered some 20 tunnels originating in Gaza since 2014, army spokesman Jonathan Conricus said this week.
Israel has fought three wars with Hamas since the Islamists ousted loyalists of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas from the territory in 2007 and there have been numerous smaller flare-ups.
An informal truce brokered by Egypt and the United Nations, with the financial support of gas-rich Qatar, has been in force since late 2018.
It has been broken several times but has been restored on each occasion.