The Palestinian Authority has denounced an Israeli decision to expand an illegal settlement in the heart of Hebron city, describing the move as a declaration of war against the Palestinian people.
On Sunday, government spokesman Yousef Al Mahmoud said in a statement that the move was a blatant targeting of the existence of the Palestinian people and an attack on international laws and resolutions, Wafa news agency reported.
The 31 settler homes to be built in the flashpoint city of Hebron, located in the occupied West Bank will be the first Jewish settlement expansion in Hebron since 2002.
It comes at a cost of $6.1m in government funding, according to Israeli daily Haaretz.
Construction permits were agreed in October last year but needed the government’s approval, according to the NGO Peace Now, which monitors settlement construction in occupied territory.
Now that the cabinet has approved the funds for the plan, the settlement project can go ahead.
“For the first time in more than 20 years, Hebron will have a new Jewish neighbourhood where a military camp once stood,” Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Sunday after the weekly cabinet meeting.
He said in a statement that the project will comprise 31 settler homes and two kindergartens.
“It is an important step in the global activity which we are carrying out to reinforce settlements in Judea and Samaria,” added Lieberman, referring to the occupied West Bank.
Hebron is holy to both Muslims and Jews, with important religious figures including Abraham, seen as the forefather of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, believed to be buried there.
It is home to around 200,000 Palestinians and some 800 settlers living under Israeli army protection in several heavily fortified compounds in the heart of the city.
The Hebron units are to be built on Shuhada Street, once a bustling shopping street leading to a holy site where the Abraham is believed to have been buried.
The street is now largely closed off to Palestinians who have repeatedly demanded that it be reopened to traffic.
The area was seized in the 1980s by the Israeli army, which built a military base on it to protect Hebron’s Jewish settlers.
The 1994 massacre of 29 Muslim worshippers in Hebron by Israeli-American Baruch Goldstein led to an agreement three years later, giving the Palestinian Authority control over 80 percent of the city.
The settlers and about 30,000 Palestinians living adjacent to them fall under Israeli military rule.
Peace Now said in a statement that the land on which the settler homes will be built legally belongs to the Palestinian municipality of Hebron.
According to Peace Now, settlement plans in the West Bank have increased since the beginning of 2017, when Donald Trump, a key ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was inaugurated as president of the United States.
According to Palestinian figures, more than 700,000 Jewish settlers now live on 196 settlements (built with Israeli government approval) and more than 200 settler outposts (built without its approval) across the occupied West Bank.
International law views the West Bank and East Jerusalem as occupied territories and considers all Jewish settlements on the land to be illegal. They are also viewed as major obstacles in peace efforts as they are built on land the Palestinians want for their future state.