Israel approves plans for more than 200 new W.Bank settler homes

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Jerusalem (AFP)

Israel has approved plans for more than 200 new settler homes in the occupied West Bank, adding to a sharp increase in settlement projects so far this year, an Israeli NGO said Thursday.

Israel's government has given the green light for the plans for at least 229 homes to move forward and they are now at various stages in the technical process, said Hagit Ofran, a spokeswoman for settlement watchdog Peace Now.

Settlement building projects must pass through five administrative stages before winning final approval from Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon.

There was no immediate response from Israel's defence ministry.

Peace Now said this week that the number of West Bank settlements Israel plans to build more than tripled in the first quarter of 2016 compared to the same period last year.

Between January and March, projects for 674 housing units passed at least one of the steps in the planning approval process, up from 194 in the first quarter of 2015, it said.

The new plans bring the total to at least 903.

The settlements are considered illegal under international law and are seen as major stumbling blocks to peace efforts since they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.

"This policy is killing the two-state solution," Ofran told AFP.

The United States and the European Union, among others, have strongly criticised Israeli settlement construction.