Thomas Coex / AFP / Getty Images

Israel approves 454 new settlement homes in East Jerusalem

Palestinian Authority condemns the plan as a provocation amid weeks of escalating violence

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has approved the marketing of land for the construction of 454 homes in two settlements in occupied East Jerusalem, a government official said on Tuesday. The announcement, seen as a provocation by Palestinians, comes amid weeks of escalating violence between Palestinians and Israeli forces, which began in early October over increasing visits by Jews to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, also known as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem.

The building of 436 of the housing units, in the settlement of Ramat Shlomo on land Israel occupied in a 1967 war, was approved in 2012. But the project was later frozen after criticism from Washington and the European Union. In 2010, when the construction plans for Ramat Shlomo were first announced, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden publicly scolded Israel while he was visiting Jerusalem.

The government official, who asked not to be identified, said Netanyahu gave the go-ahead on Monday to market the homes in Ramat Shlomo and another 18 in Ramot.

In a statement, the Palestinian Authority condemned the Israeli plan and settlement-building as a whole as a "flagrant violation of international law" aimed at preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Under international law, all Jewish settlements in the West Bank are considered illegal. Ramat Shlomo and Ramot are in a part of the occupied West Bank that Israel annexed to Jerusalem in 1967 in a move that has not won international recognition.

News of the decision came a week after the European Union (EU) decided to start labeling Israeli products made in the West Bank — a move that shows the bloc's disapproval over Israel's expansion of illegal settlements. The move requires that producers must explicitly label products that come from settlements built on land occupied by Israel if they are sold in the EU.

Some 500,000 Israelis have settled in the West Bank and East Jerusalem among 2.4 million Palestinians. 

Despite international backlash, Israel's settlement projects continue. Last month, the state retroactively legalized about 800 homes in four settlements throughout the West Bank, the interior ministry said.

Continued settlement growth could further anger Palestinians who feel squeezed by growing loss of land to Jewish homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In the latest unrest, settlers have been perpetrators of violence against Palestinians as well as targets.

Since Oct. 1, Israeli forces and settlers have killed at least 78 Palestinians, 45 of whom Israel alleges were carrying out or were about to commit attacks. At least 14 Israelis have been killed by Palestinians. 

Al Jazeera and wire services

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