July 22nd, 2024

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

By Tia Goldenberg And Kareem Chehayeb, The Associated Press on July 4, 2024.

JERUSALEM (AP) – An Israeli anti-settlement monitoring group says the government has approved plans to build nearly 5,300 new homes in settlements in the occupied West Bank.

It is the latest move by Israel’s hard-line government to beef up the settlements as part of a strategy to cement Israel’s control over the West Bank and prevent the establishment of a future Palestinian state.

Peace Now says the government’s Higher Planning Council approved or advanced plans for 5,295 homes in dozens of settlements.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is dominated by settlers and their supporters. He has placed a former settler leader, Bezalel Smotrich, in charge of settlement policy.

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.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

JERUSALEM (AP) – Israel’s Cabinet was to convene Thursday to discuss Hamas’ latest response to a U.S.-backed proposal for a phased cease-fire in Gaza, as diplomatic efforts aimed at ending the nine-month war stirred back to life after a weekslong hiatus.

Fighting, meanwhile, intensified between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, with the militant group saying 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 United States has rallied world support behind a plan that calls for the release of all of the scores of hostages still held by the militant Hamas group in return for a lasting truce and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.

But until now, neither side appears to have fully embraced it. Hamas suggested “amendments” to the proposal last month, some of which the U.S. said were unworkable, without providing specifics.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin 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 confirmed Wednesday that it had 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 would convene a Cabinet meeting Thursday to discuss the latest developments surrounding the negotiations. The official, who wasn’t authorized to discuss the meeting with the media, spoke on condition of anonymity. Israel would likely hold additional consultations before making a final decision on any amended proposal.

As cease-fire talks appeared to be gaining new steam, 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. Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ top political leader, shared suggestions with Egyptian, Qatari and Turkish officials, the group said in a statement late Wednesday.

U.S. officials have said the latest proposal has new language that was proposed to Egypt and Qatar on Saturday and addresses indirect negotiations that are set to commence during the first phase of the three-phase deal that President Joe 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 a number of 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 Israeli release of Palestinian prisoners. The third phase would see the return of the remains of hostages.

The transition from the first to the second phase has appeared to be the main sticking point.

Hamas is concerned that Israel will restart the war after the first phase, perhaps after making unrealistic demands in the talks. Israeli officials have said they want the negotiations to lead to Hamas’ removal from power in Gaza – a provision not spelled out in the proposal. They have also pushed for a time limit on negotiations to keep pressure on Hamas and prevent it from drawing out talks and the initial cease-fire.

In a lengthy television interview last month, Netanyahu said that he was prepared to make a “partial deal,” but was committed to continuing the war “after a pause” in order to annihilate Hamas. Later, speaking before Israel’s parliament, he said Israel remains committed to the deal outlined by Biden.

The war began when Hamas-led militants launched a surprise attack on Oct. 7 into southern Israel, attacking multiple army bases and farming communities and killing around 1,200 people, mostly civilians. They abducted another 250 people. more than 100 of whom were released during a weeklong cease-fire in November. Militants are still holding around 80 hostages and the remains of 40 others.

In its campaign in Gaza since the attack, Israel has killed more than 38,000 Palestinians, according to health officials in Gaza, who don’t say how many were civilians or militants. Israel’s bombardment, ground offensives and restrictions on Gaza have caused vast destruction across the territory, displaced most of its population of 2.3 million – often multiple times – and caused widespread hunger, raising fears of famine.

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Chehayeb reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Abby Sewell in Beirut and Aamer Madhani in Washington contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Gaza at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

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