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Israel to expand Gilo settlement


Ever-expanding: Gilo, a Jewish settlement on land Israel captured in 1967 and annexed to its Jerusalem municipality. Pic:Reuters

Occupied Jerusalem:  Israel's Interior Ministry has approved the building of 1,200 new homes in the east Jerusalem settlement neighbourhood of Gilo, the latest in a slew of such approvals, Israeli watchdog Peace Now said.

The approval, which came late on Monday night, follows Israeli committee approvals for thousands of units in neighbourhoods across east Jerusalem and in the West Bank last week.

"This approval from the interior ministry for the construction of 1,200 homes in Gilo comes after a meeting on Thursday by the planning committee for the Jerusalem district to hear objections to the project," Hagit Ofran of Peace Now said.

The approval applies to the Mordot Gilo extension of Gilo, a settlement neighbourhood in southern Jerusalem near the Palestinian city of Bethlehem.

"In the past seven days alone, Israel has approved 5,350 new settler units in East Jerusalem, a pace unprecedented since 1967," Daniel Seidemann of the Terrestrial Jerusalem settlement watchdog group wrote on his official Twitter account.

Israel captured east Jerusalem during the 1967 war and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.  It considers all of Jerusalem its "eternal, undivided" capital and defends construction in all parts of the city.

Violation
But the Palestinians want east Jerusalem for the capital of their promised state, and they — along with the international community — consider settlement construction in east Jerusalem and the West Bank a violation of international law.

Meanwhile, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak yesterday confirmed a government decision to officially recognise the status of the first Israeli university established in the occupied West Bank.

"Defence Minister Ehud Barak tonight ordered General Nitzan Allon, the military commander of the central region (covering the West Bank), to proclaim the university college of Ariel a university," the ministry said.

"This decision follows the decision in this regard by the government and the recommendations of the government's legal adviser published today on this subject," it added. Israel approved plans to upgrade the college in Ariel to a full-fledged university on September 9, although the move still needed the approval of the defence minister in charge of the occupied Palestinian territories.

On Monday night, legal adviser Yehuda Weinstein recognised the merits of the government decision, following a recommendation from the "Council for Higher Education in Judaea and Samaria" — a group close to Jewish settlers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the change in status, saying that "after decades, an additional university was born in Israel, which will strengthen higher education in the country".

In September, Israel's Council for Higher Education, which regulates the seven universities in the Jewish state, opposed the move, branding it political and filed a petition against it to the High Court of Justice.

Barak's approval comes after the Netanyahu government has advanced the building of thousands of new settlement homes in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, sparking widespread condemnation.

Set up in 1982 as an annex to Bar Ilan University, Ariel has 12,000 students in four faculties — medicine, engineering, natural sciences and social sciences.

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