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UK, EU condemn Israeli West Bank settlement construction plans

The United Nations reported in June that Israel had announced a substantial increase in settlements in the past three months despite a UN resolution demanding a halt to the Jewish outposts

The European Union and British government on Thursday condemned Israel's approval of a thousand new housing units in West Bank settlements.

Israeli authorities gave a final green-light to 382 new homes in Jewish settlements on Wednesday and advanced plans for some 600 more. The plans include 370 housing units in the Adam settlement, where three Israelis were stabbed by a Palestinian in July, one fatally.

Palestinians, who want to establish an independent state in the West Bank, say Israeli settlement growth hinders the prospect of a viable state.

The UK's Middle East Minister Alistair Burt called on Israel "to halt such counterproductive action" and encouraged "all parties to commit to further efforts to de-escalate current tensions and create the right environment for a just and lasting peace."

"Settlements are illegal under international law and remain one of the obstacles to a viable two state solution," Burt said in a statement.

"Yesterday’s announcement of plans to construct over 1,000 units on the West Bank, and last week’s tendering for 1,100 more, continues policies that are rightly condemned internationally. The UK echoes this condemnation today."

While the Conservative-led British government is considered close to the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it has not held back from criticizing Israel's military control of the West Bank.

Haim Zach/GPO

Burt, who steers Middle Eastern policy in the British Foreign Office, has called on Israel to cancel plans to demolish the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar and raised concerns about the jailing of teenager Ahed Tamimi.

The Europe Union's foreign service also took aim at the settlement construction approvals.

"If implemented, these plans would further jeopardize the prospect of a contiguous and viable future Palestinian state," a spokesperson said in a statement.

The criticism comes just hours after Netanyahu, before flying to Lithuania, said he wanted to strengthen Israel's ties with non-EU countries in order to "balance the EU's unfriendly attitude towards the State of Israel" and "achieve a more fair and genuine treatment."

Speaking alongside his Lithuanian counterpart, Netanyahu said Israel is "often mistreated" by the bloc. 

“There are many distortions that are leveled at us and it is refreshing to see you take a stand of clarity, of truth and of courage and we discussed how that can be expanded,” he added. 

Late last month the UK also announced it was doubling aid to the West Bank and Gaza over the next four years.

According to the UK announcement, London will provide up to £38 million (USD$49,912,000) for projects such as a desalination plant for Gaza, pay for solar panels and connect Palestinian IT businesses with British companies.

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