Israel approves 1,800 new settler homes days before election
Israel approved nearly 1,800 new homes in settlements in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, the country's right-wing defence minister announced, four days ahead of a general election.
The ministry said a planning committee "approved the construction of 1,800 housing units, according to the proposal of the Minister of Defence Naftali Bennett", in a statement that quoted figures adding up to slightly below this amount.
"We don't wait, we act. We will not give an inch of the land of Israel to the Arabs, but for that, we must build there," the statement quoted Bennett as saying.
Anti-settlement NGO Peace Now said a total of 1,739 homes were earmarked, 92 percent of which were deep inside the West Bank.
It said 1,036 were approved through a first major stage, while 703 went through a final major hurdle.
It was the second major settlement announcement in recent days, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday announced 3,500 new homes in the E1 corridor, a highly sensitive part of the West Bank.
The international community has warned repeatedly that Israeli settlement construction in the E1 corridor - which passes from Jerusalem to Jericho - would slice the West Bank in two and compromise the contiguity of a future Palestinian state.
Israel is due to hold a general election on 2 March in which Bennett's far-right Yemina coalition and Netanyahu's Likud will compete for the support of Israel's more than 600,000 settlers.
"In the battle over the settler right-wing vote, Bennett and Netanyahu are dragging Israel to invest in thousands of harmful and unnecessary settlement units," Peace Now said in a statement.