Israeli Government Approves Building Plan for Settlement

Israel has approved the first phase of a building project for a new neighborhood in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

The project, in the Kiryat Sefer settlement, comprises 1,806 housing units, but only 900 had been approved for construction, the Israeli daily Ma’ariv reported Tuesday.

The move marked the first approval of a building plan in the territories under the new government, which has lifted a freeze imposed by the previous government on construction in Jewish settlements.

Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai, who has been authorized to approve all building projects in the territories, gave his approval this week.

But officials at the Tzivha development company in charge of the project pointed out that former Prime Minister Shimon Peres had agreed in principle to the construction project shortly before handing over the reins to the Likud government.

Before the May elections, the firm had petitioned the High Court of Justice to let the plan go through.

Moshe Fogel, head of the Government Press Office, denied that the approval was politically motivated.

He told Israel Radio that it was only to allow for the “natural growth” of the community.

But the Palestinian Authority has warned against further building in Jewish settlements, calling their expansion a violation of the accords signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Meanwhile, Palestinians called a two-hour protest strike in eastern Jerusalem on Tuesday, after Israel bulldozed a building in Jerusalem’s Old City.

The building was intended to be used as a social club. Israel said it was built illegally with Palestinian Authority funds.

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