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Israel approves biggest West Bank land seizure in decades

Israel has approved its biggest land seizure in the occupied West Bank in more than three decades, a move criticised by activists on Wednesday as…

Israel has approved its biggest land seizure in the occupied West Bank in more than three decades, a move criticised by activists on Wednesday as detrimental to Palestinian peace hopes.

The 12.7-square-kilometre (4.9-square-mile) of land in the Jordan Valley was officially declared “state property” in June, according to an official declaration obtained by AFP after being revealed by the Peace Now group.

“The size of the area designated for declaration is the largest since the (1993) Oslo Accords, and the year 2024 marks a peak in the extent of declarations of state land,” Peace Now said.

The Israeli government has seized a total of 23.7 square kilometres in the West Bank since the start of the year, it said.

When land is declared “state property”, Palestinians lose private ownership rights and are barred from using it, Peace Now said.

Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Since then, it has constructed dozens of settlements across the West Bank, home to more than 490,000 Israelis, which are deemed illegal under international law.

About three million Palestinians reside in the West Bank.

In the 1980s, Israel seized hundreds of square kilometres of land, halting seizures in 1992. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s first government resumed them in 1996.

Israel’s hard-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich announced one earlier seizure in March, when he slammed those “in Israel and the world who seek to undermine our right over” the West Bank.

Officials have not publicly commented on the latest seizure, which comes amid heightened tensions with the Palestinian community due to the Gaza war.

Peace Now criticised Netanyahu and Smotrich, accusing them of prioritising “a handful of settlers” over resolving the political conflict or ending the war.

“Today, it is clear to everyone that this conflict cannot be resolved without a political settlement that establishes a Palestinian state alongside Israel.”

The newly seized land near the Yafit settlement is designated for either a nature reserve or military purposes.

The United Nations has warned that Israel’s accelerated illegal settlement construction since the Gaza war began on October 7 risks eliminating the possibility of a viable Palestinian state.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has described the expansion of settlements as “counterproductive to reaching enduring peace” with the Palestinians.

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