Israeli authorities approve 510 new units at illegal settlements near Bethlehem
The Gush Etzion council, which represents Jewish settlers in the area, approved the developments in the settlements south and east of Bethlehem, said Hasan Berejiya, director of the Palestinian Wall and Settlement Resistance Commission.
Four hundred of the housing units are set to be built on the Migdal Oz settlement, itself built on land that is part of the Palestinian town of Beit Fajjar.
The other 110 units will be built on the settler outpost of Ibei, part of land belonging to the town of Kisan in east Bethlehem.
All Jewish settlements in the West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967, are considered illegal by most of the international community.
Last Friday, a UN rights expert said that they constituted a war crime, at a session of the UN Human Rights Council boycotted by Israel.
Michael Lynk, UN special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, explained that Israeli settlements violated an absolute ban on an occupying power transferring part of its civilian population into an occupied territory.
This meets the definition of a war crime under the Rome Statute founding the International Criminal Court, he said.
"I submit to you that this finding compels the international community ... to make it clear to Israel that its illegal occupation, and its defiance of international law and international opinion, can and will no longer be cost-free," Lynk told the Geneva rights forum.
In a separate statement, Lynk described the settlements as "the engine of Israel’s 54-year-old occupation".
There are now close to 300 settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, with more than 680,000 Israeli settlers, he said.