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Israel approves initial plans for settlement homes

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Jerusalem: Israel last month gave preliminary approval to development plans that could build more than 2,000 homes in West Bank settlements over the next 15 years, according to documents obtained today.

The plans came as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Washington for a high-profile meeting with President Barack Obama.

Official records from an Oct 21 planning committee meeting showed that officials gave preliminary approval to build about 2,200 homes in several existing settlements east of the Palestinian city of Ramallah by 2030. The plans were first reported by the Haaretz daily.

Hagit Ofran of the anti-settlement group Peace Now said that it could be years before any of the homes are built since the plan must pass several other phases before construction can begin. Still, she said it shows the “vision” that Netanyahu’s government has for the area.

The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank, captured by Israel in the1967 Mideast war, as part of a future independent state. The international community opposes settlements as illegal or illegitimate and says they hinder efforts for Palestinian statehood.

The meeting took place at a time of rising violence. Today, Israeli security forces shot and killed a Palestinian woman at a West Bank checkpoint after she allegedly pulled a knife in an attempt to stab guards.

Since mid-September, 12 Israelis have been killed in Palestinian attacks, mostly stabbing assaults. Meanwhile, 75 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, including 48 said by Israel to be involved in attacks or attempted attacks. The other Palestinians died in clashes between stone-throwers and security forces.

In today’s incident, the Israeli Defense Ministry said the woman ignored calls to stop and also warning shots as she walked toward a checkpoint near the Alfei Menashe settlement in the northern West Bank. It released what appeared to be a suicide note left behind by the 23-year-old woman, in which she pledged to “defend the homeland” and begged her parents and sisters for forgiveness.

The bloodshed was triggered by unrest at a major Jerusalem shrine revered by both Muslims and Jews, and quickly spread to Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza border.

Israel has blamed the violence on incitement by Palestinian leaders. Palestinians say the attacks stem from a lack of hope for gaining independence after years of failed peace efforts.

Rights groups have alleged that Israeli troops have used excessive force against Palestinians, in some cases shooting and killing suspected attackers who the groups say could have been simply arrested.