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Israel freezes Palestinian housing plan after settler objections

The move comes less than a month after Israel broke ground on its first new illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank for two decades
Heavy machinery on the site of a new illegal settlement of Amichai, in the occupied West Bank (Reuters)

Israeli ministers have frozen a plan to allow for the construction of thousands of Palestinian homes in a West Bank city, a statement said on Thursday, a move that followed Israeli settlers' objections.

Israel's security cabinet took the decision in a meeting on Wednesday, the statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said, despite ministers having previously approved the project.

The plan is for Qalqilya, said to be the most densely populated Palestinian city in the West Bank with more than 40,000 residents and surrounded by Israel's separation wall on three sides. It is located in the northern West Bank, near the Israeli cities of Kfar Saba and Raanana.

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman and military officials favour the plan as part of a so-called “carrot-and-stick” policy to reward Palestinian cities Israeli security forces view as calm in recent years. Lieberman has disputed reports that it would allow for up to 14,000 housing units, saying it would be a maximum of 6,100.

The plan would extend the city to allow for the new homes into the part of the West Bank known as Area C, under complete Israeli control.

Some 60 percent of the West Bank is part of Area C and Palestinians face near-impossible odds in gaining construction permits there.

Israeli settlement building has meanwhile continued in Area C, though settler leaders argue it has advanced too slowly and harshly criticised the Qalqilya plan. Under Wednesday's decision, Israel's full cabinet will hold another discussion on the issue, though with a broader scope.

“The cabinet will discuss a global construction policy and Area C planning in 10 days,” the statement from Netanyahu's office said.

Israel's current government is seen as the most right-wing in the country's history, with key ministers opposing the creation of a Palestinian state and advocating settlement construction.

Last month Israel broke ground on its first new illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank for two decades.

Construction in Amichai in the West Bank started on the eve of a visit by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner to discuss peace talks.