TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank said Monday they erected a religious school in a dismantled outpost after the Israeli government lifted a ban on settlements in several evacuated areas in the territory’s north.
Also on Monday, a Palestinian man died after being shot dead by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank city of Jenin, Palestinian health officials said, the latest bloodshed in a wave of violence.
The school was built on Sunday in Homesh, one of four West Bank outposts evacuated as part of Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005. In March, Israel’s far-right government repealed a law of 2005 which evacuated the four outposts and prohibited Israelis from entering the areas.
Anti-settlement groups say more settlement construction in these areas further dims any hopes of a contiguous and independent Palestinian state. The United States, Israel’s closest ally, has also expressed concern.
A video on social media showed settler leaders inaugurating the religious school, a one-story structure, with a prayer and saying they also hoped to rebuild the other evacuated settlements.
Homesh has been at the center of settler efforts to strengthen Israel’s grip on the northern West Bank. Settlers have long maintained a presence in the outpost despite the 2005 law, erecting tents and other structures on the foundations of old houses. The army has occasionally demolished these structures, but has largely ignored the existence of settlers at the outpost, which was built on private Palestinian land.
The Israeli government has made settlement building one of its top priorities. The ruling coalition, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is made up of ultranationalist settler supporters, including Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who also has some authority over West Bank settlements. Israel’s Army Radio reported that the religious seminary in Homesh was built with the approval of Smotrich and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, but bypassed the regular construction approval process in the West Bank. .
Members of the government praised the new construction. National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, a key government official and settler himself, said it was “an exciting historic moment”.
The military said it was operating in accordance with government decisions. A Gallant spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Israel’s intentions in Homesh and the three other settlements dismantled in 2005 have drawn repeated criticism from Washington, which has said it is “deeply disturbed” by moves to resettle the area. Most of the international community views Israeli settlements, which house 700,000 people in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as illegal and obstacles to peace.
The construction in Homesh comes at a time of growing violence between Israel and Palestinians in the West Bank, much of which is concentrated in the northern part of the territory.
In Jenin, a major hotbed of violence over the past year, the Palestinian Health Ministry said Israeli forces killed 37-year-old Ashraf Mohammed Ibrahim. The Israeli military said forces on an arrest raid came under heavy fire and returned fire.
Intensified fighting over the past year between Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank has resulted in the deadliest bout of violence between the sides in years in that territory. During this time, some 260 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire. Israel says most were militants, but young stone-throwers and others not involved in the clashes were also killed.
Palestinian attacks on Israelis have killed 50 people since last spring.
Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East War. The Palestinians seek these territories for the state they hope for.