|Ariel is one of the largest settlements Israel has built in the West Bank [GALLO/GETTY]|
Israel has approved the building of 277 homes in a West Bank settlement, despite US and international pressure to curb expansion on occupied land as Palestinians prepare for a statehood bid at the UN.
Ehud Barak, Israel’s defence minister, authorised the building in Ariel on Monday.
One hundred of the apartments will house Israelis who left the Gaza Strip in 2005.
Ron Nachman, the mayor of Ariel, told the Reuters news agency that the project was the largest approved by the government in the settlement for years.
“No more than 50 apartments have been built here in the past seven years,” Nachman said.
Ariel, which has about 18,000 inhabitants, is one of the largest settlements Israel has built in the West Bank.
The latest move marks the largest construction project in a single settlement since the establishment of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government.
Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesperson for Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, said: “This act is condemned and is an Israeli attempt to obstruct and destroy what is left of any effort to revive the peace process.
“Once again, these Israeli settlement measures represent a strong reason calling on us to go to the United Nations and the Security Council to request membership for the State of Palestine and to halt these Israeli measures.”
The US State Department has said that Israel’s decision to build nearly 300 settlements in the occupied West Bank is “deeply troubling” and contradicts efforts to revive peace talks with the Palestinians.
The announcement comes four days after a final go-ahead for a plan to build 1,600 settler homes in occupied East Jerusalem, which drew condemnation from the United States and Europe.
On Thursday, the US State Department voiced concern over final approval given for the construction in East Jerusalem.
A spokesperson said such unilateral action “undercuts trust” and works against US efforts to get Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.
The settlements are considered illegal under international law.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967, and annexed East Jerusalem, a move not recognised by the international community.