Israeli settlement construction in West Bank rises by 70%

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The new settlement - the first since 1992, according to Israeli NGO Peace Now - is meant to house residents of the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona after the Israeli military demolished it in February.

Tuesday's ground-clearing work was in preparation for the installation of dozens of mobile homes for the families evicted from Amona, a spokesman for the main settler organisation, the Yesha Council, said.

On Monday, Israel's official bureau of statistics published a report revealing that the number of settlement homes Israel began to build in the occupied West Bank rose 70 percent over the past year. During that period, however, the population of existing settlements and unauthorized so-called "wildcat outposts" has nearly trebled. Instead, construction during that period has expanded existing settlements or taken place in unauthorized outposts like Amona.

Palestinians regard settlements, around 200 of which have been built over the past 50 years on occupied land that they seek for a state, as obstacles to a viable and contiguous country.

Construction begins just a day before a delegation of Trump Administration officials are headed to Israel and the West Bank to talk with officials in an attempt to kickstart the peace process.

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US officials are calling the trip part of an effort to keep the conversation going rather than the launching of a new phase in the peace process, saying that Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, the president's special representative for global negotiations, are likely to return often.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the beginning of the works.

When Trump visited Jerusalem on May 22-23, he studiously avoided any mention of settlements, at least in public.

Greenblatt is to be joined by Trump's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner on Wednesday.

Robert Piper, UN humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, last week, warned that Palestinians were being "held hostage to this longstanding Israeli siege". The Kushner family has also always been close to Netanyahu, with the prime minister once sleeping on Kushner's childhood bed.

Last December, the United Nations Security Council approved a resolution declaring all Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank illegal under worldwide law.

Trump has described a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians as "the ultimate deal" and made it a priority since taking office: he's received both Netanyahu and Abbas in the White House and visited the region last month. Israel disputes that, citing biblical, historical and political links to the West Bank, as well as security interests.

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