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Peace Now: Israel approves new West Bank settler homes

May 22, 2011 5:48 P.M. (Updated: May 23, 2011 10:41 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has approved construction of 294 new homes in the West Bank settlement of Beitar Ilit, anti-settlement NGO Peace Now reported on Sunday.

Peace Now made its announcement as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Washington, preparing to address the US Congress and the powerful pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

It said Barak also approved building of homes for the elderly and a shopping center in the illegal settlement of Efrat.

The group could not say exactly when Barak signed off on the two projects.

In response to AFP's queries, the defense ministry issued a brief statement saying only that "since the end of the freeze period a few building permits have been approved for communities situated in the [settlement] blocs to meet their living needs."

Peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have been on hold since late September, when a 10-month, partial Israeli settlement freeze expired and Netanyahu refused to renew it.

Peace Now said on Sunday that since the moratorium was lifted settlers had started construction on about 2,000 homes in 75 different settlement sites.

As President Barack Obama was delivering a key speech on Thursday in which he called for Israel to make a complete pullout from land it occupied in the 1967 Six Day war, a government committee approved more than 1,500 Jewish-only homes in occupied East Jerusalem.

Peace Now called that decision "not just miserable timing but a miserable policy" and said it sent a "clear message to the Americans."

The Palestinians have insisted they will not talk while Israel builds on land they want for a future state, and Israel has attracted fierce international criticism for its settlement policy.

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