In final Trump administration days, Israel approves new settler homes

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel approved on Sunday plans to build hundreds of new settler homes in the occupied West Bank, projects it is advancing in the final days of the pro-settlement Trump administration.

The planned construction, on land captured by Israel in the 1967 war that Palestinians seek as part of a future state, was announced on Monday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu ordered the plans advanced and on Sunday, a government committee gave final ratification for 365 homes and preliminary approval for another 415, said the Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now, which monitored the session.

A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the construction as illegal, accusing Israel of making a "pre-emptive attempt ... to undermine any effort by (incoming) U.S. President Joe Biden to relaunch the stalled peace process".

In a statement, the European Union said Israel's latest decision to advance the plans "is contrary to international law and further undermines the prospects of a viable two-state solution".

The government committee's website was not immediately updated with details of Sunday's moves, which were also reported by Israel's main media outlets.

Settler leaders have voiced concern that once he takes office as president on Wednesday, Biden, a Democrat who has been critical of Israeli settlement activity in the past, will try to slow housing construction.

Peace Now said approval of the new settler housing "needlessly sets Israel on a collision course with the incoming Biden administration".

Most countries view Israeli settlements as violating international law. Israel disputes this, citing historical, political and biblical links to the West Bank, where more than 440,000 Israeli settlers now live among 3 million Palestinians.

President Donald Trump has effectively backed Israel's right to build West Bank settlements by abandoning a long-held U.S. position that they break international law.

He also has won Israeli praise and drawn Palestinian anger by recognising contested Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moving the U.S. Embassy there. U.S.-backed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in 2014.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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