Last Updated: Sun Dec 18, 2011 18:34 pm (KSA) 15:34 pm (GMT)

Israel unveils tenders for 1,028 new settlement units in east Jerusalem, West Bank

Israel has come under international criticism for expanding its settlement activities across its territory and the West Bank. (File photo)
Israel has come under international criticism for expanding its settlement activities across its territory and the West Bank. (File photo)

Israel’s housing and construction ministry on Sunday published tenders for the construction of more than 1,000 housing units in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, the ministry’s website said.

The new units include 500 in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Har Homa and more than 500 in two West Bank settlements − 348 in Beitar Ilit near Bethlehem, and 180 in Givat Ze’ev northwest of Jerusalem.

A ministry spokesman told AFP that the settlement units were being marketed “as a follow-up to the Palestinian (U.N. membership) bid in September.”

The tenders were part of a package of nearly 6,000 housing units which are to be built across Israel and the West Bank.

Israel has come under renewed international criticism for its surge of settlement activities since a government decision on November 1 to speed up building in response to UNESCO admitting Palestine.

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 internationally.

The international community considers all settlements in territories occupied by Israel since June 1967 to be illegal, whether or not approved by its government.

U.N. envoy criticizes Israel

Meanwhile, the U.N. envoy for freedom of expression wound up a ground-breaking mission to Israel and the Palestinian territories Sunday, expressing concern at Israeli treatment of Palestinian demonstrators.

Special rapporteur Frank La Rue told a news conference in Jerusalem that he had been in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh on December 9, when a Palestinian protester was fatally injured by a tear gas round fired by Israeli troops.

“I was informed that a young man had been injured with a tear gas canister to the head,” he said. “I went outside but did not witness the actual incident.”

Mustafa Abdelrazek al-Tamimi, 28, died in hospital the next day. La Rue said that when he raised the incident with a senior army officer he was told that two military investigations had been launched, one of which is to be concluded by December 20.

“Any use of force against demonstrators or rioters must be minimal and proportionate to the threat posed,” he said. “While the use of tear gas to disperse a crowd may be legitimate under certain circumstances, tear gas canisters should never be fired directly at demonstrators.”

La Rue said that while Israeli army regulations appear to forbid such fire there are allegations that soldiers in the field do not always obey the rules.

“I have been informed of similar cases involving the use of tear gas canisters resulting in several injuries and one death,” he said. “Without adequate sanctions for any violations of these rules, such regulations can become merely symbolic.”

On Hamas

He also had criticism for the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers.

“In Gaza I was informed of the trend of arbitrary arrests and overnight detention of journalists and human rights defenders by the security agencies of the de facto authorities, which has an intimidating effect and leads to self-censorship.”

La Rue’s fact-finding visit to Israel and the Palestinians was the first by a U.N. freedom of expression rapporteur since the unpaid post was created in 1993.

He said that his final report would be presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council “in the first week of June.”

The visit came as Israeli MPs mulled a series of draft bills slammed by critics as “anti-democratic” including one which would dramatically increase penalties for “defamatory” articles in the press, on a radio or television broadcast, or even on Facebook.

Another draft law seeks to limit foreign government funding to Israeli NGOs that oppose Israeli occupation and settlement in the Palestinian territories.

Last month, Israel’s communications ministry ordered the closure of an Israeli-Palestinian radio station, accusing it of operating a pirate broadcast because it is licensed in the Palestinian territories.

On the Palestinian side, rights groups and media freedom watchdogs have criticized the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas for harassing journalists.

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