Israel has retroactively legalised about 800 homes in four settlements in the West Bank, the Palestinian occupied territory, the interior ministry said.

They included 377 homes in the Yakir settlement, 187 in Itamar and 94 in Shilo in the northern West Bank, as well as 97 more in Sansana in the south of the occupied Palestinian territory, it said.

The decision was taken two weeks ago but was only reported by the Israeli press on Friday.

It came at a time of heightened tensions between Israelis and Palestinians in the occupied territories of Jerusalem and Israel.

Since October 1, Israeli forces or settlers have killed 69 Palestinians - including unarmed protesters, bystanders and alleged attackers - across Israel, the occupied West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. 

The international community regards all Jewish settlements in the West Bank as illegal, but the Israeli government makes a distinction between those it has authorised and those it has not.

Settlements and outposts are seen as major stumbling blocks to peace efforts as they are built on land that Palestinians see as part of a future state.


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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has faced international criticism for refusing to halt settlement expansion.

"These aren't new constructions, but rather, homes built in settlements recognised by Israel in areas that - until now - didn't have any urban planning," said Hagit Ofran, a spokeswoman for Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now.

"Even if it doesn't have the same impact that the announcement of new settlements would, it's undeniably a gesture from Netanyahu," she said.

Recent violence in the West Bank has given ammunition to the Israeli pro-settlement lobby, commentators say.

Israel last announced new settlements in July when the government authorised 300 new settler homes to be built in Beit El in central West Bank.

Source: AFP