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Aug 31, 2:30 PM EDT

Israel approves plans for new homes in West Bank settlements



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JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel on Wednesday approved plans for hundreds of new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank, Israeli media reported, prompting a swift condemnation from the White House.

The development underscored that Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem has continued to move forward during a more than two-year freeze in Mideast peace efforts. The international community regards settlements as a key obstacle to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because they are scattered throughout land the Palestinians want for an independent state.

Israel says Jews have been in those areas for centuries, and that their presence there does not undermine prospects for peace. It also blames failed peace efforts on Arab denials of Jews' historical connections to the land.

In the latest approvals, an Israeli military planning committee advanced plans for 463 housing units in various settlements in the West Bank, according to the Israeli news site Haaretz and the settlement watchdog group Peace Now.

Of those, 51 housing units will be newly built, while 178 units built without permits in one settlement in the 1980s received retroactive approval, Haaretz reported.

In addition, the report says the military committee gave initial approval to build a senior citizens' home of 234 housing units in a settlement.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest called the approvals a "significant expansion of settlement activity" and said the development "poses a serious and growing threat to the viability of a two-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"We are particularly troubled by a policy of retroactively approving illegal outposts and unauthorized settlements," Earnest said. "I think we have been quite unambiguous about the concerns we have on this issue."

The Israeli military body COGAT, which oversees such housing approvals, would not comment.

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Associated Press writer Kevin Freking in Washington contributed to this report.

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