West Bank: US rebukes Israel over settlers' return to evacuated outpost
The United States criticised Israel on Monday for allowing the return of settlers to an abandoned West Bank outpost and for the "provocative visit" to Al-Aqsa Mosque by Itamar Ben Gvir on Sunday.
In a press release on Monday night, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Washington was "deeply troubled" by Israel's recent decision to allow settlers to establish a permanent presence in the Homesh site, which is built illegally on Palestinian land.
The outpost was dismantled in 2005 as part of then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan.
However, since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to office last year, his government - which is dominated by settler leaders - has sought to promote settlement activity in the occupied West Bank.
Israeli lawmakers approved legislation in March that would allow four abandoned Jewish settlements in the West Bank to be re-established, including Homesh, Sa-Nur, Ganim and Kadim.
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On Monday, the Israeli military signed off on an order allowing Israelis to return to the evacuated outposts, paving the way for a formal settlement to be built there in another blow to Palestinian hopes for statehood which could raise tensions already at boiling point.
'We are deeply troubled by the Israeli government's order that allows its citizens to establish a permanent presence in the Homesh outpost'
- Matthew Miller, US State Department
"We are deeply troubled by the Israeli government's order that allows its citizens to establish a permanent presence in the Homesh outpost," Miller said in a statement.
"This order is inconsistent with both former Prime Minister Sharon's written commitment to the Bush Administration in 2004 and the current Israeli government's commitments to the Biden Administration," the State Department spokesman added.
The settlement of Homesh, built on privately owned Palestinian land, is one of the most politically charged outposts and symbolic hilltops in the West Bank.
Despite not being allowed to establish a permanent presence there since 2005, settlers have regularly flaunted their presence on the hilltop, often guarded by Israeli soldiers.
Nearly 700,000 settlers live in more than 250 settlements and outposts across the West Bank and East Jerusalem in violation of international law.
Meanwhile, far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich - who is responsible for the occupied West Bank civil administration - is said to be laying the groundwork for doubling the West Bank settler population, according to Haaretz newspaper.
Miller also criticised Itamar Ben Gvir, Israel's far-right national security minister, for his "provocative visit" to Al-Aqsa Mosque on Sunday morning "and the accompanying inflammatory rhetoric".
Ben Gvir toured the Jerusalem site under heavy security protection and declared: "We're in charge here."
"This holy space should not be used for political purposes, and we call on all parties to respect its sanctity," the US statement said.
"We reaffirm the longstanding US position in support of the historic status quo at Jerusalem's holy sites and underline Jordan's special role as custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem."
Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is officially under Jordanian custodianship, is an Islamic site where unsolicited visits, prayers and rituals by non-Muslims are forbidden, according to decades-long international agreements.
Israeli groups, in coordination with authorities, have long violated the delicate arrangement and facilitated raids of the site and performed prayers and religious rituals.
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