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Palestinians slam plan for thousands of new settler homes in East Jerusalem

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced addition of 2,200 units to Har Homa settlement
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, centre, watches from an overview the Israeli settlement of Har Homa on 20 February 2020 (AFP)

Palestinians have slammed an announced plan by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to add thousands of new homes for Jewish settlers in occupied East Jerusalem, a project unveiled less than two weeks before a general election in Israel.

"I have huge news today - we're adding another 2,200 units to Har Homa," Netanyahu said in a video message posted by his office on Thursday. 

The contentious Har Homa community was first built in 1997 during a previous Netanyahu administration. 

The prime minister said he had approved that initial construction "despite objections from the entire world" and estimated that Har Homa's population would grow from 40,000 to 50,000 when the new units were completed.  

A statement from a spokesman for Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, published by the official Wafa news agency, criticised the move as designed to win votes ahead of elections on 2 March.

"Netanyahu's attempts to win right-wing Israeli votes on the eve of the Israeli elections at the expense of Palestinian rights will not bring peace and stability to anyone, and will lead to more tension and violence in the region," said the statement.

Netanyahu is trying to secure his re-election at what will be the third vote in less than a year.

Polls indicate another close race between the prime minister's right-wing Likud and the Blue and White party of former general Benny Gantz, with neither bloc expected to win an outright majority. 

'A severe blow'

On Thursday, Netanyahu also announced the approval to build a new settlement with several thousand homes in Givat Hamatos, next to the mainly Palestinian East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Beit Safafa. 

The new community will include 3,000 homes for Jewish-Israeli residents and 1,000 "for the Arab residents of Beit Safafa", Netanyahu said. 

Watchdog Peace Now called the Givat Hamatos project "a severe blow to the two-state solution", as it would interrupt "territorial continuity between Bethlehem and East Jerusalem".

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Israel seized East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War. It later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.

Settlements in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank are also considered illegal by most foreign governments and the United Nations under international law. 

Peace Now argued that Netanyahu, who is currently leading a caretaker government after two elections failed to produce a clear winner, lacks the mandate to approve the contentious projects. 

"Such a change of policy can't happen in a transitional government without a mandate from the public," it said.