Israel has approved construction of 40 homes and a farm in two new settler enclaves near the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Haaraetz daily reported on Monday.
“Israel’s military establishment has approved the establishment of a new, permanent neighborhood and a farm near the West Bank settlement of Efrat,” the paper said.
“The projects will go beyond the community’s current built-up area, constituting an effective expansion of the Etzion Bloc of settlements toward the north and north-east,” it added.
“With their completion Jewish settlement in the northern Etzion Bloc will reach the edges of Bethlehem’s southernmost suburbs.”
It said the plan was approved by Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Haaraetz quoted Efrat Mayor Oded Ravivi as saying “the decision to approve, at this stage, construction of 40 residential units at Givat Hadagan in Efrat, Gush Etzion--which is in the heart of the consensus--is a good decision but far from sufficient. We congratulated Netanyahu for it but also explained that to solve Efrat’s serious housing shortage the cabinet must approve 3,000 new homes.”
The paper said that the farm will be built at Givat Eitam, located on the Palestinian side of the planned route of the separation barrier. Its establishment is designed to preserve the territory for the future expansion of Efrat.
Efrat is located on a series of hills on a mountain ridge east of Route 60, which connects the Palestinian cities of the West Bank.
When the separation barrier was built in the Efrat area, then-Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz included the area on the western side of the barrier, but as the result of deliberations in the High Court of Justice the route was changed to exclude Givat Eitam. According to the Israeli daily, it can be expected that the establishment of the farm will be followed by the building of an access road and the deployment of IDF soldiers and other security arrangements, to guarantee the area’s future role as part of Efrat.
Israel has come under renewed international criticism for its settlement activities recently, since a government decision last month to speed up building in response to Palestine joining UNESCO.
More than 310,000 Israelis live in settlements in the occupied West Bank and the number is constantly growing.
Another 200,000 live in a dozen settlement neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, which was captured by Israel in 1967 and annexed in a move never recognized by the international community.
The international community considers all settlements in territories occupied by Israel since June 1967 are illegal, whether or not approved by its government.
Rockets fired from Gaza
Meanwhile, Gaza armed groups fired a rocket at southern Israel on Monday but it landed in open ground in the Negev desert, injuring nobody, the military said.
“A rocket fell in the Shaar Hanegev region; there were no casualties and no damage,” a spokeswoman told AFP.
It was the first incident in about 48 hours, following a weekend of tit-for-tat attacks between the two sides.
On Thursday, an Israeli air strike killed two Gaza gunmen, ending a relative lull since the end of October, when cross-border violence killed 12 Palestinians and an Israeli civilian.
Following the Thursday hit, Palestinian fighters fired five rockets at Israel, none of which caused casualties or damage.
In an ensuing Israeli air raid at a militant training ground in Gaza on Friday morning, a father and his 12-year-old son were killed and 10 other civilians injured, after the attack caused a nearby house to collapse.
Palestinians then fired 12 rockets at Israel on Friday, and another four on Saturday, none causing casualties.