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

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

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.


Bahrainis detained by Qatar return to kingdom

Bahrainis detained by Qatar return to kingdom
Updated 20 min 31 sec ago

Bahrainis detained by Qatar return to kingdom

Bahrainis detained by Qatar return to kingdom
  • The 3 were released by Qatari authorities on Thursday and arrived in Bahrain via Oman
  • They were arrested while fishing, Bahrain says they were in territorial waters

DUBAI: Three Bahrainis detained by Qatar have arrived back in the kingdom after Manama helped to extradite their release, the Bahrain News Agency reported on Friday.
Bodybuilding champion Sami Al-Haddad, his friend Mohammed Al-Dossari and fisherman Habib Abbas were released by Qatari authorities on Thursday after they were arrested by Qatari coast and border security while fishing at sea, in two separate incidents. Bahrain said that the three citizens were in the country’s territorial waters.
The three men thanked Bahrain’s King Hamad and Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad for the attention and care that they had received, which they said had a great impact on their release and return.
They also thanked the interior ministry, headed by Lt. Gen. Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah, and the foreign ministry, headed by Abdullatif Al-Zayani, for their efforts and the measures that contributed to their safe return.
The men said that they were proud to see the “patriotic interest they received for their cause,” both from the government and the Bahraini people.
Bahrain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its “profound thanks and gratitude to Oman for the efforts made by the authorities in the sultanate to coordinate and follow up on the release of Bahraini citizens detained in Qatar and to facilitate their return to Bahrain.”
The three arrived in Oman on Thursday following their release, the kingdom’s embassy in Muscat confirmed.
The ministry said that the release of the citizens by Qatar was “a step that reflects the spirit required toward resolving the outstanding issues between the two countries in order to enhance the process of cooperation between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.”
The statement also said that Bahrain hoped that Qatar would release Asian sailors who work on Bahraini fishing vessels, and take into account their humanitarian situation.
Bahrain, along with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt, ended a three-year rift with Qatar on Jan. 5 following a GCC summit in the historic city of AlUla, formally restoring diplomatic relations and opening their land, sea and air borders.