JERUSALEM: Israel will build "thousands" of new homes in settlements in the West Bank, Housing Minister Uri Ariel insisted on Wednesday, just hours before Israeli-Palestinian peace talks were to resume.
"We will build thousands of homes in the coming year in Judaea and Samaria," he told public radio, using the biblical term for the West Bank.
"No-one dictates where we can build," he said.
Ariel, number two in the far-right Jewish Home party which is adamantly opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state, said construction would take place in isolated settlements and not just in the major blocs where the majority of the 360,000 Jewish settlers live.
"This is just the first course," he added, hinting at much more building to come.
His remarks added to already soaring tensions over settlements following two Israeli decisions this week to press ahead with 2,129 settler homes, most of them in annexed east Jerusalem in a move which has drawn Palestinian fury.
Commentators said the timing of this week's announcements was aimed at appeasing hardliners in Netanyahu's rightwing coalition but was also something of a quid pro quo for the release of 26 Palestinian prisoners who were serving life for killing Israelis.
"The government of (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu intends to continue issuing additional construction tenders in the course of negotiations," Maariv newspaper wrote on Tuesday.
"The next tender is likely to be issued in tandem with the second release of prisoners in three or four months time in what could be described as a policy of 'prisoners for houses'," it added.