The Defense Ministry has advanced plans to build 346 housing units in the West Bank’s Gush Etzion region, area council head Davidi Perl reported on Thursday.

The plans for 200 new homes in Tekoa and 146 in Nokdim were pushed forward a few weeks ago, but he and the council only publicized the information on Thursday, he said.

The news broke at the same time that the UN Human Rights Council lifted its embargo on a report condemning Israeli settlement building and calling on Israel to withdraw from the West Bank.

Israel considers Gush Etzion to be a settlement bloc that will remain part of the country in any final-status agreement with the Palestinians for a two-state solution.

But the Nokdim and Tekoa settlements are located in the eastern part of that region, outside the boundaries of the security barrier.

Perl said he had been led to believe that the plans would be approved once the bureaucratic process was complete.

Earlier this month, the Construction and Housing Ministry issued tenders for 114 apartments in the Efrat settlement, also in Gush Etzion. It also issued tenders for 84 units in the Kiryat Arba settlement adjacent to Hebron, right outside Gush Etzion.

This follows a December decision to advance plans for 523 homes in a new neighborhood of Gush Etzion’s Alon Shvut settlement known as Gevaot.

The Gush Etzion Regional Council hopes eventually to receive permits to build thousands of homes in Gevaot, enabling it to become the fifth Jewish city in the West Bank.

Perl said he welcomed outgoing Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s decision to expand settlements in the eastern part of his region.

Perl, a Likud member, said that no matter who the coalition partners were, he believed Netanyahu would continue to be a significant force to promote, develop and strengthen the settlement enterprise.

Hagit Ofran of Peace Now said that Barak had advanced plans for more than 8,000 units during his tenure in office. He has now chosen to leave his job, by pushing forward another harmful set of plans in isolated settlements beyond the security barrier, she said.

“It’s a testimony to his true legacy as defense minister,” she declared.

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