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UK calls on Israel to halt illegal settlement activity, condems plans for 323 new units in Jerusalem

July 29, 2016 11:22 P.M. (Updated: July 31, 2016 5:13 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- British Under-Secretary of State for the Middle East Tobias Ellwood condemned on Thursday Israel's decision to move forward with another 323 illegal settlement units in occupied East Jerusalem.

Ellwood condemned the decision to issue tenders for a further 323 settlement units on Palestinian land in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, highlighting that the decision came amidst a recent string of settlement approvals and plans by Israeli authorities.

"Settlement activity is counterproductive and undermines progress towards a two-state solution," Ellwood said, "this announcement comes on the back of an alarming increase in demolitions of Palestinian houses throughout 2016, including in East Jerusalem."

Ellwood concluded the statement by saying that Israel's actions were "the latest examples of what seems to be an acceleration of a systematic policy of illegal settlement expansion and demolition of Palestinian property. Along with our international partners, we call on Israel to halt all demolitions and settlement activities."

The statement on behalf of the British government came one day after the US Department of State released a similar statement slamming Israel’s continued settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, and expressing concern over the recent increase of demolitions on Palestinian homes that have left dozens of Palestinians homeless this week.

State Department Spokesman John Kirby said in the statement that the United States was “deeply concerned” by the reports of the 323 additional units in East Jerusalem, and expressed the government’s disapproval of plans to build an additional 770 units in the Israeli settlement of Gilo which was announced Monday.

Like Ellwood, Kirby expressed that the actions of the Israeli government aimed at fast-tracking the resettlement of Israeli citizens into Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory appeared to represent a “steady acceleration of settlement activity that is systematically undermining the prospects for a two- state solution.”

The statement also underscored the government’s concern over several other Israeli settlement expansion plans announced in previous weeks, including plans to construct 531 units in Maale Adumim, 19 in Har Homa, 120 in Ramot, 30 in Pisgat Zeev, in addition to plans to retroactively legalize an Israeli settler outpost near Ramallah while issuing tenders for 42 additional units in Kiryat Arba, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank district of Hebron infamous for its extremist residents.

The recent escalation of Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes lacking hard-to-obtain Israeli-issued building permits was also mentioned in the statement, as Kirby underscored the government’s worry over dozens of Palestinians, including children, being made homeless as a result of their homes being destroyed by Israeli forces.

The spokesperson was referring to demolition raids that were carried out on an unprecedented scale this week in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Issawiya and Ras al-Amoud, and in the village of Qalandiya in the West Bank district of Jerusalem, resulting in at least 30 Palestinian families losing their homes.

Kirby also referenced a recent report released by Israeli human rights group B’Tselem which revealed that more Palestinian homes had been demolished since the start of 2016 than in all of 2015.

While the Israeli government does not make Israeli settler population statistics public, most rights groups estimate that some 500,000 to 600,000 settlers reside in Israeli settlements across the West Bank and East Jerusalem -- all of which are considered illegal under international law.

Meanwhile, a total of 664 Palestinian-owned structures have been demolished by Israeli forces since the start of this year, resulting in the displacement of 981 Palestinians, according to UN documentation.

However, the UN’s data only included the number of demolitions as of July 25, and had not yet incorporated the recent mass demolition campaigns that took place in the succeeding days in East Jerusalem and Qalandiya.

Ellwood’s and Kirby’s statements joined a long line of other nations, international organizations, and rights groups, including the European Union and United Nations, which have condemned Israel’s policies in the occupied Palestinian territory, which have escalated at a concerning level over the past several months.

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