Israeli plans to develop a new settlement in the West Bank has raised strong international criticism.
The expansion was not helpful to the peace process, said a US official, while David Miliband (photo, from thesun.co.uk), UK foreign minister, expressed dismay at the reports. And UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said he was “deeply concerned” at the plan.
According to reports, Israel is close to giving final approval to new homes at Maskiot, in the Jordan Valley.
Initially build 20 homes is the latest plan. They will be occupied by religious Jewish families, who had previously withdrawn from Gaza.
As it is a former military outpost, technically Maskiot is not a new settlement, say Israeli officials.
The approval of Ehud Barak, the defence minister, is now required, an official was quoted as saying.
The Israeli move has been criticised by Saeb Erekat, Palestinian negociator, who said on Thursday that : “this is undermining us, and killing and destroying the peace process”.
In 2006, plans for construction at Maskiot were originally shelved, following international pressure.
In the whole Middle East peace process, the issue of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land is one of the most controversial and divisive topics, says BBC Jerusalem correspondent Wyre Davies.
All settlement activities should be frozen, under the terms of the Middle East peace plan known as the roadmap, which is the basis for current talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
Israel has been accused by the Palestinians and peace groups of blatantly ignoring the roadmap, by continuing to build or expand settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Although Israel disputes it, settlements are considered illegal under international law.
Since 1967, the West Bank has been occupied by Israel, who settled more than 430 000 people in the area, including East Jerusalem.
In the same time, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said she believes there is still time for the Israelis and Palestinians to reach a peace deal by the end of the year, like the US president wishes. And next week, the two sides are meeting for further talks in the United States.