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Israel announces 2,500 new units in illegal West Bank settlements

Defence ministry statement is second on new construction since Donald Trump became US president
Most of the new construction will take place in existing settlement blocs (AFP)

Israel's defence ministry announced plans on Tuesday to build 2,500 more settlement homes in the West Bank, the second announcement of new construction in the occupied territory since Donald Trump took office in the United States.

A statement from the ministry said the plans, authorised by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, were intended to fulfil a demand for new housing "to maintain regular daily life".

Trump's White House kept mum on the plans.

The previous US administration, under Barack Obama, had viewed such building as "illegitimate" and in recent months warned that settlements could derail hopes of a negotiated two-state solution.

But White House spokesman Sean Spicer declined to give a view on Israel's decision.

"Israel continues to be a huge ally of the United States," Spicer said, when asked about Trump's perspective on the Israeli plan to further expand settlements.

"He wants to grow closer to Israel to make sure it gets the full respect in the Middle East," he continued. "We'll have a conversation with the prime minister."

Most of the new construction will take place in existing settlement blocs.

The statement said 100 of the homes would be built in Beit El, a settlement which according to Israeli media has received funding from the family of Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Palestine Liberation Organisation Secretary General Saeb Erekat called for international action against Israel's illegal expansion.

"The international community must hold Israel accountable immediately for what it is doing," he said, adding that Israel had been emboldened by "what they consider encouragement by American President Donald Trump".

Trump has signalled strong support for Israel, which Israeli right-wing politicians have sought to take advantage of. Some hardliners are calling for an end to the idea of a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu said he still supports a two-state solution, but told ministers on Sunday that all restrictions on building settlements in occupied East Jerusalem were being lifted.

He also said on Sunday he plans to expand construction in large settlement blocs in the West Bank, Israeli media reported, and that he foresees eventually bringing all settlements under Israeli sovereignty, a euphemism for annexation.

In December the UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. 

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