Israel approves plans for nearly 5,300 new homes in West Bank settlements

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webnexttech | Israel approves plans for nearly 5,300 new homes in West Bank settlements
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JERUSALEM — The Israeli government has approved plans to build nearly 5,300 new homes in settlements in the occupied West Bank, a monitoring group said Thursday, the latest move in a campaign to accelerate settlement expansion, aiming to cement Israeli control over the territory and prevent the establishment of a future Palestinian state. Word of the decision emerged as an Israeli official said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had decided to send negotiators to resume Gaza cease-fire talks. Diplomatic efforts aimed at ending the nine-month war in Gaza appear to be stirring back to life after a weekslong hiatus. The night before, the militant Hamas group said it gave mediators its latest response to a U.S.-backed proposal for a phased cease-fire. Fighting has intensified between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, with the militant group saying Thursday it fired more than 200 rockets and exploding drones into northern Israel to avenge the killing of a senior commander in an Israeli airstrike the day before. The relatively low-level conflict has literally set the border ablaze and raised fears of a potentially even more devastating war in the Middle East. Hezbollah has said it will halt its attacks if there is a cease-fire between Hamas – a fellow Iran-backed ally – and Israel.

The Israeli anti-settlement monitoring Peace Now said the government’s Higher Planning Council had approved or advanced plans for 5,295 homes in dozens of settlements across the West Bank. COGAT, the Israeli defense body that oversees the planning council, referred questions to Netanyahu’s office, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Netanyahu’s government is dominated by settlers and their supporters. The hard-line nationalist finance minister, Bazalel Smotrich, who is a settler himself, has been put in charge of settlement policy. On Wednesday, Peace Now said Israel approved the largest seizure of land in the West Bank in over three decades. The turbocharged settlement drive threatens to stoke further tensions in the West Bank, which has seen a surge in violence since the Gaza war began on Oct. 7. The Palestinians seek the West Bank, east Jerusalem, and Gaza – areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war – for an independent state. It could also rankle Israel’s ally, the United States, which speaks out against settlements, though it has done little to pressure Israel on the issue.

The U.S. has rallied world support behind a plan for a phased cease-fire that calls for the release of all of the scores of hostages still held by Hamas in return for a lasting truce and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza. But neither side appears to have fully embraced it until now. Hamas suggested “amendments” to the proposal last month, some of which the U.S. said were unworkable without providing specifics. For his part, Netanyahu has given conflicting stances – he confirmed that the original proposal was an Israeli one, but he has also said he would accept only a partial deal, after which Israel would return to its military campaign to destroy Hamas. Hamas said Wednesday it sent another response to Egypt and Qatar, which are mediating the talks, without providing details.

A U.S. official said the Biden administration was examining the response, calling it constructive but saying more work needed to be done. The official, who wasn’t authorized to comment publicly, spoke on condition of anonymity. An Israeli official said Netanyahu decided to send a team for new talks. The official, who wasn’t authorized to discuss the meeting with the media, spoke on condition of anonymity. It was not immediately clear when or where the team would go for negotiations. Meanwhile, Gaza’s Health Ministry said the number of Palestinians killed by Israel’s campaign in Gaza had climbed past 38,000. The ministry does not differentiate between combatants and civilians in its count. Hamas political official Bassem Naim said the group has neither accepted nor rejected the American proposal and has “responded with some ideas to bridge the gap” between the two sides without elaborating. According to Hamas’ statement late Wednesday, Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ top political leader, shared suggestions with Egyptian, Qatari, and Turkish officials.

U.S. officials have said the latest proposal, which includes new language proposed to Egypt and Qatar on Saturday, addresses indirect negotiations set to commence during the first phase of the three-phase deal that President Biden laid out in a May 31 speech. The first phase calls for a cease-fire, a withdrawal of Israeli forces from all densely populated areas of Gaza, and the release of several hostages, including women, older people, and the wounded, in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. The proposal called for the parties to negotiate the terms of the second phase during the 42 days of phase one. Under the current proposal, the negotiations are meant to lead to a “sustainable calm” and the withdrawal of all Israeli troops from Gaza – with the release of all remaining men, both civilians and soldiers, held captive by Hamas in return for an

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