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Israel approved record number of housing units in illegal settlements, says Peace Now

Since January, Israel has endorsed 12,855 housing units for settlers throughout the West Bank
A picture taken from the Palestinian West Bank village of Lubban ash-Sharkiya on 16 January 2017 shows the Israeli settlement of Eli (AFP)

Israel's far-right administration has sanctioned unprecedented levels of construction in illegal settlements within the occupied West Bank in its first six months of power, Israeli anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now said on Thursday.

Israel has endorsed 12,855 housing units for settlers throughout the occupied West Bank since January, Peace Now said. It is the highest number the group has recorded since it started tracking such activity in 2012.

"In the past six months, the only sector that Israel has vigorously promoted is the settlement enterprise," Peace Now said in a statement.

According to the group, the Higher Planning Council (HPC) of Israel convened three times this year, with the objective of advancing construction proposals. 

All Israeli settlements beyond the 1967 borders are illegal under international law.

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According to the United Nations, nearly 700,000 settlers live in 279 settlements across the West Bank and East Jerusalem, up from 520,000 in 2012.

Israel speeds up authorisation of 1,000 new homes in occupied West Bank settlement
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Last month, Israel planned to authorise 1,000 new homes for the Eli settlement in the occupied West Bank in response to the shooting that killed four Israeli settlers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich “agreed to move ahead immediately” with the planning. No further timetable was provided.

A new resolution gives practically all control over planning approval in the occupied West Bank to Smotrich, who is himself a settler and a fierce proponent of settlement expansion.

The decision, which takes immediate effect, speeds up the process of expanding occupied West Bank settlements and retroactively legalises settlements under Israeli law.

Earlier this month, Israel's two-day assault on the Jenin refugee camp left at least 12 Palestinians killed and more than 100 wounded.

Almost a third of the refugee camp, around 4,000 Palestinians, fled their homes, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent.

Around 1,000 Israel soldiers were used in the operation, which saw attack helicopters being used alongside drones, fighter jets and heavy weapons, resulting in numerous properties being damaged or destroyed. 

Legal experts have said that Israel's military operation in Jenin fits into the parameters of war crimes under the Geneva Conventions.

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