Israel has taken control of a large area near a prominent settlement in the Palestinian West Bank, paving the way for a possible construction of 2,500 settlement homes, officials have said.
Oded Revivi, the mayor of Efrat, said on Monday that the Israeli military has designated 425 acres near the settlement of about 1,600 families south of Jerusalem, as so-called
state land two weeks ago.
Revivi said Efrat plans to build 2,500 homes on that land, but government approval would still be needed before construction begins, a process that could take years.
Eventually, Efrat is to grow to a city of 30,000 people, he said.
The settlement is situated in one of three settlement blocs Israel expects to hold on to in any final peace deal with the Palestinians.
Revivi said nine appeals, eight of which were rejected and one was upheld, had been filed by Palestinian landowners.
Al Jazeera's Nour Odeh, reporting from Ramallah, West Bank, said the "confiscation [of the land], which by international law is deemed illegal, has been greeted with condemnation among Palestinian circles".
"We've seen statements from these leaderships describing this measure as condemnable, calling on the international community to take a firm stance," she said.
"... This will undoubtedly be a major sticking point when the US peace envoy George Mitchell visits the region towards the end of the month.
"This is what [the] Palestinians will be concentrating on. Already we've heard from the Palestinian president's office that there will be no negotiations until all settlement activities in the occupied West Bank including east Jerusalem stops."
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has warned that continued settlement expansion would cripple peace talks.
His aides said recently that peace talks can only resume after a settlement freeze.
Expansion could also create friction with the US, as Mitchell, the US Middle East envoy, has long called on Israel to halt construction in settlements.
Nearly 290,000 Israelis currently live in West Bank settlements.