Earlier in October, Israel unveiled plans to build more than 600 new homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, drawing international and Palestinian condemnation.

   

A Housing Ministry official in Jerusalem on Thursday said tenders had been announced for building 143 new apartments in the Karnei Shomron settlement, near Nablus in the northern West Bank, and 180 in Givat Zeev, close to Jerusalem.

 

The US-backed peace "road map" adopted by Israel and the Palestinians freezes Jewish settlement "activity". Palestinians and world leaders say this means a halt to all building at settlements, but Israel challenges this.

 

Condemnation

   

"All legal tenders within existing communities are not included in the 'road map' according to our interpretation and our understanding," a senior Israeli official said.

   

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned the tenders as well as Israel's decision on Wednesday to press on with construction of a barrier in the West Bank despite a United Nations resolution demanding it be torn down.

   

Urging the United States to intervene to stop construction of the barrier and the new homes, he said: "Settlements and walls are the number one obstacle to peace."

 

"Settlements and walls are the number one obstacle to peace"

Saeb Erekat
Chief Palestinian negotiator

The independent Israeli settlement monitoring group Peace Now said the government had now published 1,627 tenders for new homes in the settlements since the beginning of the year.

   

"Even as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon continues to pay lip service to the adoption of the ‘road map’, on the ground the government continues to build in the territories and disregards all their commitments on this issue," Peace Now said.

  

About 230,000 settlers live in nearly 150 settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, territories Israel occupied in a 1967 war. The international community regards settlements on occupied Palestinian land as illegal under international law.