Middle East

US criticises Israel over plans for new settlement homes

Palestinian schoolgirls walk with a donkey as the West Bank Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim, near Jerusalem, is seen in the background November 13, 2013. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The plans are said to include 560 new homes in Maale Adumim, just outside Jerusalem

The US has criticised Israeli plans to build hundreds of new homes in existing Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

State department spokesman John Kirby called the plans the "latest step... in a systematic process of land seizures".

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was "deeply disappointed" by the Israeli government's decision.

The international Quartet of Middle East peace mediators also recently criticised settlement construction.

About 570,000 Israelis live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

Citing an Israeli official, the Associated Press reported that the Israeli plans included 560 new homes in Maale Adumim, just outside Jerusalem, as well as almost 200 in the city itself. The plan also called for more than 600 new homes in an Arab neighbourhood of East Jerusalem, AP said.

Mr Kirby said: "If true, this report would be the latest step in what seems to be a systematic process of land seizures, settlement expansions and legalizations of outposts that is fundamentally undermining the prospects for a two-state solution."

The plans were also sharply criticised by Ban Ki-moon.

"This raises legitimate questions about Israel's long-term intentions, which are compounded by continuing statements of some Israeli ministers calling for the annexation of the West Bank," the UN chief's spokesman said in a statement.

On Friday, the Quartet released a report saying Israeli settlement-building - along with continuing violence, terrorism and incitement, and lack of control of the Gaza Strip by the West-Bank based Palestinian Authority - was undermining peace hopes.

Israel welcomed parts of the Quartet report, but said it "perpetuates the myth that Israeli construction in the West Bank is an obstacle to peace".

The last round of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians came to an end amid acrimony in April 2014.

The Palestinians accused Israel of reneging on a deal to free prisoners, while Israel said it would not continue negotiations after the Palestinians decided to bring the militant Islamist Hamas movement into a unity government.