Israel approves West Bank settlements ahead of Passover holiday
The Israeli government gave the green light for at least 229 planned settlements to move forward, despite concern over an upsurge in violence ahead of the Jewish Passover holiday, beginning April 22.
The number of West Bank settlements Israel plans to build have more than tripled in the first quarter of 2016, compared to the same period last year, settlement watchdog Peace Now said.
Between January and March, 674 housing unit plans passed at least one of the steps in the planning approval process, up from 194 in the first quarter of 2015, the watchdog said.
The new plans bring the total to at least 903 illegal settlements in occupied Palestine.
Earlier this month, Israeli forces demolished dozens of structures including a school in the northern West Bank, leaving 10 families homeless.
The demolitions took place in the village of Khirbet Tana, south of Nablus in the northern West Bank.
In total, 41 structures were destroyed, displacing 36 Palestinians including 11 children, the UN's humanitarian body said in a statement.
The European Union has also hit out at Israeli authorities after they demolished a school funded by the French government in late March.
Nickolay Mladenov, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said last month the number of such demolitions has tripled on average since the start of the year.
"Since the beginning of 2016, Israel has demolished, on average, 29 Palestinian-owned structures per week, three times the weekly average for 2015," he said.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for an "urgent" UN resolution over Israeli settlements, criticising lack of action from the United States, which alongside the European Union, opposed their construction.
"The Security Council is a very important subject because it has now become urgent due to settlement activities and because Israel has not stopped these activities," Abbas said in an interview with AFP.
Settlement construction in the West Bank "is something that has seriously jeopardised the two-state project."
The settlements are considered illegal under international law and are seen as major stumbling blocks to peace efforts since they are built on Palestinian land.
A US initiative collapsed in April 2014 and peace efforts have been at a standstill since then.
A wave of attacks and shootings erupted in October, with at least 200 Palestinians killed by Israeli fire in what many have dubbed to be "extrajudicial executions."
Although Israeli media reported a steady decline in the violence, Israeli authorities have expressed concern of an upsurge in violence ahead of the Passover holiday.
"Traditionally Passover is a tense period in Jerusalem around al-Aqsa Mosque and there are more visitors in the area," a senior military officer said, Israeli daily Haaretz reported.
Last year, thousands of settlers and visitors gathered amid intensified Israeli security to mark the Jewish holiday as Israeli authorities sealed off parts of the West Bank, preventing many Palestinians in there from going about their day-to-day life.
Agencies contributed to this report