3 Nov 2011

Housing move by Israel condemned

5:57 am on 3 November 2011

Britain, France, and the European Union have condemned Israel's decision to speed up housing construction for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague described the announcement as illegal and provocative, and urged Israel to reconsider.

Israel announced the building programme after the United Nations granted the Palestinians full membership of UNESCO, its cultural agency.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted the acceleration is not a punishment for that decision.

His office said on Tuesday that a plan to build 2000 new apartments in the West Bank and East Jerusalem would be accelerated.

On Monday, UNESCO member states overwhelmingly backed the membership application, despite opposition from the United States and Israel. The US says it will no longer make payments to UNESCO.

Peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel broke down more than a year ago. The Palestinians are demanding an end to settlement building.

Almost 500,000 Jews live in settlements on occupied territory. The BBC reports the settlements are illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.