TEL AVIV, September 7 (RIA Novosti) - Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak sanctioned on Monday the construction of 455 new homes in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the ministry's press service said.
This is the first new government-approved construction project in the West Bank since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanhyahu took office in March and is in defiance of U.S. pressure to halt all building work.
However, the permits are seen as a means of pacifying right-wing members of the ruling coalition ahead of a moratorium on settlement construction, which is needed to resume peace talks with the Palestinians.
Under the internationally agreed roadmap for Middle East peace, Israel is obliged to freeze all settlement construction activity and remove unauthorized outposts built since 2001. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has demanded Israel freeze the construction of settlements as a pre-condition for the resumption of peace negotiations.
U.S. envoy George Mitchell is to visit Israel on Saturday to try to finalize the settlement freeze deal with Netanyahu. The Israeli leader, Abbas and U.S. President Barack Obama could meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in late September.