Israel announced plans on Friday to build more than 1,800 new illegal settler homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, settlement watchdog Peace Now said.
The housing ministry announced the plans for 1,076 units in annexed east Jerusalem and 801 in the occupied West Bank, Peace Now spokesman Lior Amihai told AFP.
The ministry also re-issued tenders for a further 582 units in East Jerusalem that had previously failed to attract bids from contractors.
“The housing ministry announced the plans this morning,” Amihai said.
“Many of the units will be built in existing settlements such as Efrat and Ariel in the West Bank, and Ramat Shlomo, Ramot and Pisgat Zeev in east Jerusalem,” he said.
The ministry could not be immediately reached for confirmation.
The report comes a week after US Secretary of State John Kerry visited the region in his latest effort to push Israeli and Palestinian leaders towards an elusive peace deal.
“The new settlement construction plan is a message from (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu to Kerry not to come back to the region to continue his efforts in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks,” top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP.
“Every time Kerry has stepped up his efforts, returning to the region (for more talks), Netanyahu has stepped up his efforts to destroy the peace process,” Erakat said.
“Netanyahu is determined to destroy the two-state solution…It is high time we held Israel accountable for its crimes,” he added.
Kerry kick-started negotiations in July after a three-year hiatus, but his 10th visit was clouded by bitter recriminations from both sides, who accused each other of lacking commitment to building peace after decades of conflict.
Israel released 26 long-serving Palestinian prisoners on December 31, the third of four batches to be freed as part of the ongoing talks.
But each batch of prisoners released has been followed by plans for further expansion of settlements, which are illegal under international law. The construction announcements are seen as efforts by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to appease Israeli hardliners who oppose any concessions to the Palestinians.
Friday’s announcement meant that since peace talks resumed, Israel had announced plans for some 5,349 new homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Israeli settlement building on occupied Palestinian territory is a major sticking point, and derailed the last round of direct talks in 2010.
Meanwhile, suspected Jewish extremists cut down fruit trees belonging to Palestinian with Israeli citizenship overnight, in an apparent price tag attack after West Bank villagers beat up settlers trying to destroy their property, police said Friday.
The vandals left placards in the orchard reading “Regards from Esh Kodesh,” the illegal settlement outpost whose residents were briefly detained on Tuesday when they entered the Palestinian village of Qusra, some wearing masks, with the intent of destroying olive trees.
The vandals struck near Kfar Qasim, a town that borders the West Bank some 40 kilometers west of Qusra, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.
Seven of the dozen settlers involved in the original incident were meanwhile remanded in custody on Thursday night, Samri added.
They had been under house arrest since the army negotiated their release by the villagers while police investigated why they had entered Qusra in the first place.
The Palestinian government paid tribute to the villagers Thursday, saying they had acted in “self-defense” following numerous assaults by the settlers from Esh Kodesh, a few kilometers to the north.
(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)