Middle East

3,000 new homes to be built in West Bank settlements: Israel

Israel announced plans on Tuesday for 3,000 more settlement homes in the occupied West Bank, the third such declaration in eleven days since US President Donald Trump took office.

Trump has signaled he could be more accommodating toward such projects than his predecessor Barack Obama.

A statement from the Israeli Defence Ministry, which administers lands Israel captured in a 1967 war, said the decision was meant to fulfill demand for housing and "return to life as usual".

The announcement came close to midnight as preparations began for the eviction of 330 settlers from an outpost in the West Bank. The Supreme Court had ruled that the Amona outpost must be evacuated by February 8. because it was built illegally on privately-owned Palestinian land.

Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are due to meet in Washington on February 15. The president's chief spokesman said last week the two leaders would discuss settlement building.

The muted response from the Trump White House so far on Israel's settlement announcements has been a clear departure from Obama, whose aides routinely criticized settlement construction plans.

An announcement a week ago by Israel that it would build some 2,500 more homes in the West Bank drew rebuke from the Palestinians and from the EU. It followed approval of more than 560 new homes in East Jerusalem days before.

Palestinians want the West Bank and Gaza Strip for an independent state, with its capital in East Jerusalem. Israeli troops and settlers withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

Most countries consider settlements illegal and an obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace as they reduce and fragment the territory Palestinians need for a viable state.

Israel disagrees, citing biblical, historical and political connections to the land – which the Palestinians also assert – as well as security interests.

(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Bernard Orr)

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