Israel's government yesterday approved the construction of 31 settler homes in Hebron, the first such green light for the flashpoint West Bank city since 2002, a cabinet minister said. Construction permits were agreed in October last year but needed the government's approval, according to the Peace Now NGO which monitors settlement construction in occupied territory.
"For the first time in more than 20 years, Hebron will have a new Jewish neighborhood where a military camp once stood," Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said after the weekly cabinet meeting, as reported by Agence France-Presse (AFP). He said in a statement that the project will comprise 31 settler homes and two kindergartens. "It is an important step in the global activity which we are carrying out to reinforce settlements in Judea and Samaria," added Lieberman referring to the occupied West Bank.
Peace Now said in a statement that the land on which the settler homes will be built legally belongs to the Palestinian municipality of Hebron.
The Hebron units are to be built on Shuhada Street, once a bustling shopping street leading to a holy site where the biblical Abraham is believed to have been buried. The street is now largely closed off to Palestinians who have repeatedly demanded that it be reopened to traffic. The area was seized in the 1980s by the Israeli army which built on it a military base to protect Hebron's Jewish settlers.
Hebron is holy to both Muslims and Jews, with Old Testament figures including Abraham believed to be buried there. The city is a flashpoint reflecting the deep tensions that run between Palestinians and Israelis. Hebron is home to around 200,000 Palestinians, with about 800 settlers living under Israeli army protection in several heavily fortified compounds in the heart of the city.
Settlements are one of the most heated issues in efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, frozen since 2014. The international community regards all Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories to be illegal and a major obstacle to Middle East peace. The area, captured by Israel in 1967, is not sovereign Israeli territory and Palestinians there are not Israeli citizens and do not have the right to vote. Some 500,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas that are also home to more than 2.6 million Palestinians. Palestinians have long argued that Israeli settlements could deny them a viable and contiguous state.
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