Watchdog: Israel Promotes Bids for 1,000 Settlement Homes

A general view of the West Bank Jewish settlement of Efrat, on Jan. 30, 2023. (AP)
A general view of the West Bank Jewish settlement of Efrat, on Jan. 30, 2023. (AP)
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Watchdog: Israel Promotes Bids for 1,000 Settlement Homes

A general view of the West Bank Jewish settlement of Efrat, on Jan. 30, 2023. (AP)
A general view of the West Bank Jewish settlement of Efrat, on Jan. 30, 2023. (AP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right government authorized construction bids for over a thousand new homes in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, a watchdog group reported Friday, despite an Israeli pledge to halt settlement construction as part of efforts to curb a deadly wave of violence in the territory.

The Israel Land Authority published the tenders earlier this week for the construction of 940 homes in the West Bank settlements of Efrat and Beitar Ilit, as well as 89 homes in the Gilo settlement, which lies over the 1967 line on the southern edge of the contested capital of Jerusalem. The large settlement of Efrat sits deep in the West Bank, near the Palestinian city of Bethlehem.

Palestinians seek these lands, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, for a future independent state alongside Israel — a longstanding international goal.

The anti-settlement Israeli group Peace Now publicized the construction bids on Friday.

“This is yet another harmful and unnecessary construction initiative,” the group said, accusing the Israeli government of “trampling on the possibility of a future political agreement, and on our relations with the US and friendly countries.”

There was no immediate comment from Netanyahu's office.

The new affront to the Palestinians came just a week after Israeli and Palestinian officials met in Egypt’s southern resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh in an effort to calm rising tensions ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. After the meeting, Israel repeated a pledge made at a similar February summit in Aqaba, Jordan to temporarily freeze the approval of new settlement units in the West Bank.

Yet the government granted approval for over 7,000 new homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank last month, including in four unauthorized outposts — despite a UN Security Council statement sharply criticizing Israeli settlement expansion and rising opposition from Israel’s allies, including the United States.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief journalists, described the publication of tenders this week as procedural, saying: “All of the agreements settled during the recent joint summits in Jordan and Egypt are being respected fully.”

Israel's government, the most right-wing and religiously conservative in its history, has said it aims to entrench Israeli military rule in the West Bank, boost settlement construction and erase the differences for Israelis between life in the settlements and within the country's internationally recognized borders. Netanyahu's coalition includes ultranationalist settler leaders who live in the West Bank.

The international community, along with the Palestinians, considers settlement construction illegal or illegitimate. Over 700,000 Israelis now live in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.

The settlement construction bids come against a background of heightened tensions with the Palestinians and a national crisis in Israel over a government plan to overhaul the judicial system, which critics fear will move Israel toward autocracy.

Since the start of 2023, at least 86 Palestinians, both militants and civilians, have been killed in Israeli raids throughout the West Bank — making it the deadliest start to the year in over two decades. At least 13 civilians and one police officer were killed during the same period in Palestinian attacks against Israelis.



A Missile Strike from Yemen's Houthis Sets a Cargo Ship on Fire in Gulf of Aden

US destroyer in the Red Sea fires a missile against Houthi targets (Reuters)
US destroyer in the Red Sea fires a missile against Houthi targets (Reuters)
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A Missile Strike from Yemen's Houthis Sets a Cargo Ship on Fire in Gulf of Aden

US destroyer in the Red Sea fires a missile against Houthi targets (Reuters)
US destroyer in the Red Sea fires a missile against Houthi targets (Reuters)

Yemen's Houthi militants launched two anti-ship cruise missiles and struck a commercial ship Thursday in the Gulf of Aden off Yemen, setting it on fire and severely wounding one civilian mariner, authorities said.
The M/V Verbena was still ablaze and the mariner was flown by a US helicopter based on the USS Philippine Sea to another nearby ship for medical treatment, the US military's Central Command said.
In a statement, Central Command said the Verbena is a Palauan-flagged, Ukrainian-owned and Polish-operated bulk cargo carrier that had docked in Malaysia and was on its way to Italy carrying wood. “The M/V Verbena reported damage and subsequent fires on board. The crew continues to fight the fire,” the statement said.
The attack is the latest such assault in the Houthis' campaign over the Israel-Hamas war.
Earlier Thursday, the British military's United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations center said a vessel had been attacked and had caught fire. And the private security firm Ambrey said a merchant vessel made a radio distress call saying it had been struck by a missile.
The Houthis later claimed the attack on the Verbena, as well as attacks on two other ships in the Red Sea. Central Command said the Houthis had launched two ballistic missiles in the Red Sea that caused “no injuries or significant damage.”
The UKMTO said one vessel earlier missed by the Houthis was hit by a “third projectile” that caused “minor damage." The vessel was able to remain underway, it said.
The attack on the Verbena follows the Houthis launching a boat-borne bomb attack against a commercial ship in the Red Sea on Wednesday.
Central Command also said it destroyed a Houthi drone boat and two patrol boats in the Red Sea, as well as one airborne drone.
The Houthis, who seized Yemen’s capital nearly a decade ago, have been targeting shipping throughout the Red Sea corridor.
They say the attacks are aimed at stopping the war and supporting the Palestinians, though the attacks often target vessels that have nothing to do with the conflict.
The war in Gaza has killed more than 36,000 Palestinians there, according to Gaza health officials, while hundreds of others have been killed in Israeli operations in the West Bank. It began after Hamas-led militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking around 250 hostage.
The Houthis have launched more than 50 attacks on shipping, killed three sailors, seized one vessel and sunk another since November, according to the US Maritime Administration. A US-led airstrike campaign has targeted the Houthis since January, with a series of strikes May 30 killing at least 16 people and wounding 42 others, the militants say.
Also Thursday, the Washington-based National Democratic Institute said three of its staff were detained by the Houthis earlier this month. Their detention comes as staff of United Nations agencies and those working for aid groups also have been detained in a widening crackdown by the militants.
“This arbitrary and inhumane treatment of Yemeni citizens involved in humanitarian assistance, diplomacy, democracy and human rights, peacemaking and civil society development is entirely without foundation and must be ended immediately,” the institute said. It called for the “swift release by the Houthi regime of our staff, and of all individuals who have been unjustly detained.”
The institute is a democracy promotion organization that has worked in Yemen since 1993. It receives funding from the US government and others.