BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Israeli Planning and Construction Committee Wednesday approved the construction of 770 housing units in the illegal Gilo settlement in the south of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank, according to Israeli sources.
Rachel Greenspan, a spokesperson for the Jerusalem municipality, told Ma’an that the building plans were approved in 2013, and were “currently undergoing routine processes of allocation regarding roads and public spaces."
Greenspan added that the municipality “continues to work according to the city's master plan and will continue to develop Jerusalem for the benefit of all residents, Jewish and Arab alike.”
According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the approval was not final and the construction would still need additional approvals to move forward.
Haaretz also reported that the Israeli nonprofit Ir Amim said in a statement that the plan leaves “a very small area between Jerusalem and the Palestinian town of Beit Jala,” which would further damage any future of a contiguous Palestinian state.
The statement also emphasized the approval of the settlement units amid ongoing demolitions of Palestinian neighborhoods, as the number of structures demolished in the first half of 2016 has nearly doubled from the total number of demolitions carried out in all of 2015, leaving at least 1,569 Palestinians homeless since the start of the year.
The 2013 approved plan has joined a long line of settlement approvals in recent months that would see more than a thousand new settler units constructed on occupied Palestinian land.
Last month, Israeli authorities approved the construction of 181 new housing in the Gilo settlement, a move that was strongly condemned by the international community, including the United States and Spain
Meanwhile, the so-called “Legalization bill,” also referred to as the "Formalization bill" or "Regulation bill," passed the first reading in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset on Thursday,
which would see thousands of dunams of privately-owned Palestinian land seized and dozens of illegal Israeli outposts in the West Bank retroactively legalized.
There are an estimated 500,000 to 600,000 Israeli settlers residing in 196 illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, and a further 232 settler outposts considered illegal both by international law and Israeli domestic law, according to the Applied Research Institute - Jerusalem (ARIJ).
All of the settlements are considered by Israel to be suburbs of Jerusalem, as Israeli authorities have consistently expanded the Jerusalem municipality to include nearby illegal Israeli settlements located in the West Bank.
Human rights groups and international leaders have continued to strongly condemn Israel’s settlement construction, claiming it is a strategic maneuver to prevent the establishment of a contiguous, independent Palestinian state by changing the facts on the ground, while members of the Knesset have publicly announced their support for plans aimed to annex the entirety of Area C -- the more than 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli military and civil control.