JERUSALEM (AFP) — Construction in Israeli settlements on the occupied West Bank jumped 60 percent in 2008 in the wake of the relaunching of the Middle East peace process at a US conference, the Peace Now watchdog group said on Wednesday.
At least 1,257 new structures were built in settlements over the course of 2008, compared to 800 erected the previous year, a report said. The ground was also prepared for 63 new structures.
Building in wildcat outposts -- settlements not authorised by the government -- saw a 2.5-fold increase, with 261 new structures built in 2008 compared with 98 the previous year, Peace Now said.
"Expansion continues -- the settlers do not need to wait for Bibi," it said, referring to right-wing opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu widely predicted by the polls to become the nation's next prime minister after February 10 elections.
Construction also boomed in annexed east Jerusalem and heated up especially after the international conference in Annapolis in November 2007 that saw Israelis and Palestinians formally relaunch their sputtering peace talks.
Tenders were issued to build 1,184 housing units in east Jerusalem in 2008, compared with 793 issued in 2007. A staggering 94 percent of the 2007 tenders were issued in December, right after the Annapolis conference.
In addition, plans to construct 2,730 housing units in east Jerusalem received final approval in 2008, compared with 391 units in 2007.
Israeli settlement in Palestinian territory is one of the thorniest issues at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The report was published as new US peace envoy George Mitchell arrived in the region to push for peace negotiations.
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