OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israel plans to build a further 1,400 homes in its settlements in the occupied West Bank, and will announce the projects next week after releasing a group of Palestinian prisoners, an Israeli government official said on Friday.
The Palestinians have said any further expansion of Israeli settlements on land they seek for a state could derail U.S.-brokered peace talks that resumed in July after a three-year break.
Israel has been expected to release about two dozen Palestinian prisoners, the third group to be freed since the negotiations restarted, by the middle of next week and to announce a new settlement push of hitherto undisclosed size shortly after.
The official said about 600 homes would be announced in Ramat Shlomo, a settlement of mainly Ultra-Orthodox Jews located in an area of the West Bank that Israel annexed to Jerusalem in a move unrecognized internationally.
Another 800 would be built in several other West Bank settlements which Israel also plans to keep in any future peace deal, though the list was not yet finalized, the official - who spoke on condition of anonymity - said.
Palestinians see the settlements as an obstacle to achieving a viable state in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war. Most countries consider Israel's settlements there to be illegal.
Israel had agreed to release 104 long-serving Palestinian prisoners, convicted of killing Israelis at least 20 years ago, as part of the package worked out by Washington to resume the peace talks.
A previous round of direct negotiations broke down in 2010 in a dispute over settlement construction, and since their revival this year the peace talks have shown little sign of progress.