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UN chief 'deeply alarmed' by Israeli plans to expand illegal settlements

Antonio Guterres called the continuing expansion of Israeli settlements a driver of tension and violence in the region
This aerial view taken on 30 April 2023 shows the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim in the occupied West Bank (AFP)

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was "deeply alarmed" at Israeli proposals to move forward with more than 4,000 settlement housing units in the occupied West Bank.

In a statement on Monday, Guterres condemned the decision by the Israeli cabinet that amended planning procedures and expedited settlement approvals across the West Bank.

"Settlements are a flagrant violation of international law," the statement went on to add.

"The expansion of these illegal settlements is a significant driver of tensions and violence and deepens humanitarian needs."

He added that the Israeli move to discuss planning approval for 4,560 housing units across the occupied West Bank would further diminish efforts to create a contiguous and viable Palestinian state.

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The majority of settlement units under discussion now would be located deep in the West Bank.

The Israeli move not only "further entrenches" Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory but it also "encroaches on Palestinian land and natural resources, hampers the free movement of the Palestinian population, and undermines the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination and sovereignty," the UN chief said.

The UN chief called on Israel to "halt and reverse such decisions and to immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and to fully respect its legal obligations in that regard".

US rebuke

The statement by Guterres followed a rare US reprimand regarding Israel's settlement activity. 

On Sunday, the US State Department said that it was "deeply troubled" by Israeli moves aimed at expanding settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.

Washington branded the Israeli move as an "obstacle to peace".

"As has been long-standing policy, the US opposes such unilateral actions that make a two-state solution more difficult to achieve and are an obstacle to peace," the statement continued.

Escalating the situation are the new powers bestowed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government on his far-right finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich.

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A new resolution gives practically all control over planning approval in the 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 West Bank settlements and retroactively legalising settlements under Israeli law.

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

"We will continue to develop the settlement of and strengthen the Israeli hold on the territory," Smotrich said over the weekend.

Earlier this month, Israel shelved a plan to expand a settlement east of Jerusalem, which, if constructed, would divide the occupied West Bank in two.

The plans for the E1 settlement project, which would see 3,412 housing units built for Jewish settlers on occupied Palestinian land, would connect the Kfar Adumim and Maale Adumim settlements with occupied East Jerusalem.

The United States and the European Union have long objected to the settlement plan, warning successive Israeli administrations not to move forward with the project.

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