Despite the objections of environmentalists, the National Committee for Planning Principles - a sub-committee of the National Planning and Construction Council - has approved the construction of a new settlement of 1,500 residential units in the Nitzana area 70 kilometers south-west of Beersheba, reports www.local.co.il. The planned town, to be known as Nitzanit, has aroused fierce opposition from environmentalists who say the site chosen is currently unbuilt and open land, and that there are better, less environmentally harmful alternatives as sites for any settlement. According to the report, the committee approved the project last week despite the objections of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), the Nature and Parks Authority, and the Nitzana Tourism Forum. An SPNI spokesman in the southern district said that while the society did want to encourage settlement in the so-called periphery, it would be best to do this by strengthening existing settlements. He said the planned site of Nitzanit, on top of hills, would damage the open environment without contributing anything to existing settlements, and the area should instead be preserved as it was and classified as a nature reserve, open to the public for leisure and vacation activities. "In recent years tourism in the Nitzana area has been growing," the spokesman said. "Tourism activities are carried out largely in the area of the hills. It is important to preserve the space between sites (such as Tel Nitzana, Ma'arat Nitzana and Havat Hakedumim), and not just the sites themselves." No comment was reported from the planning committee.