US rebukes Israel for ‘biggest West Bank land grab in 30 years’
Reuters and Agence France-Presse in Jerusalem
Israel has announced a land appropriation in the occupied West Bank that an anti-settlement group termed the biggest in 30 years, drawing Palestinian condemnation and a US rebuke.
Some 400 hectares in the Etzion settlement bloc near Bethlehem were declared "state land, on the instructions of the political echelon" by the military-run Civil Administration on Sunday.
"We urge the government of Israel to reverse this decision," a US State Department official said in Washington, calling the move "counterproductive" to efforts to achieve a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
Israel Radio said the step was taken in response to the kidnapping and killing of three Jewish teens by Hamas militants in June.
Tensions stoked by the incident quickly spread to Israel's border with Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, and the two sides engaged in a seven-week war that ended on Tuesday with an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire.
The notice by the Israeli military gave no reason for the land appropriation decision.
Peace Now, which opposes Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank - territory the Palestinians seek for a state - said the appropriation was meant to turn a site where 10 families now live adjacent to a Jewish seminary into a permanent settlement.
Construction of a major settlement at the location, known as "Gevaot", has been mooted by Israel since 2000. Last year, the government invited bids for the building of 1,000 housing units at the site.
Peace Now said the land seizure was the largest announced by Israel in the West Bank since the 1980s and that anyone with ownership claims had 45 days to appeal. A local Palestinian mayor said Palestinians owned the tracts and harvested olive trees on them.
Israel has come under intense international criticism over its settlement activities, which most countries regard as illegal under international law and a major obstacle to the creation of a viable Palestinian state in any future peace deal.
Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Western-backed Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, called on Israel to cancel the appropriation. "This decision will lead to more instability. This will only inflame the situation after the war in Gaza."
Israel downs drone over Golan Heights
Israel said it had downed a drone over the occupied Golan Heights amid mounting tension on the UN-patrolled armistice line with Syria.
Air defences "successfully intercepted an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that breached Israel airspace above the border with Syria," an Israeli army statement said on Sunday. Defence minister Moshe Yaalon warned that Israeli "tolerance" should not be tested.
Heavy fighting between Syrian government troops and opposition forces overflowed into the buffer zone separating Syrian and Israeli-occupied territory at the weekend.
Dozens of Filipino UN peacekeepers escaped overnight on Saturday after rebels rammed their Golan Heights outpost with armed trucks. The UN said its troops "remain on high alert" as the fate of 44 Fijian peacekeepers abducted by Syrian rebels remained unknown.