(photo credit: REUTERS)
Defense Minister Ehud Barak plans to approve urban zoning in a number of West Bank settlements, the Defense Ministry confirmed on Monday.
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Barak will reportedly allow for four settlements - Rotem, Hemdat, Eshkolot and Nofim - to be zoned as urban areas. The settlements will join Kiryat Netafim and Halamish (Neve Tzuf), whose urban master plans the Defense Ministry already approved.
All of the aforementioned settlements were established with government approval. Twelve such settlements, including Itamar, where the Fogel family was brutally murdered
weeks ago, do not have approved urban master plans.
The changed zoning allows for higher density of building in the settlements, making them more likely to be allowed to continue construction. However, no building permits have been handed out for the four settlements.
Following Israeli media reports that Barak approved widespread construction in the West Bank, the Defense Ministry said that "these are legal settlements that were built on state lands, received authorizations from the government, but their urban construction schemes were not arranged. Only recently were those arrangements completed."
"This is the approval of the existing situation," the Defense Ministry's statement explained. "Any additional construction requires another authorization."
Last week, 45 Knesset members signed a letter released on Sunday, requesting Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Barak to authorize the urban building scheme in the settlement of Itamar, where five members of the Fogel family were stabbed to death earlier this month.
MKs from the Likud, Kadima, Israel Beiteinu, National Union, United Torah Judaism, Habayit Heyehudi and Shas signed the letter, including Deputy Ministers Danny Ayalon, Gila Gamliel, Menahem Eliezer Moses, Leah Ness and Ayoub Kara.