BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israel is intensifying settlement expansion in the West Bank only weeks after peace talks resumed between Israel and the Palestinians following US pressure, a Bethlehem-based research institute said Wednesday.
Israeli settlers are working to turn illegal outposts in eastern Bethlehem into permanent settlements officially recognized by the Israeli government.
The international community considers all Israeli settlements built after Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967 illegal.
A researcher with the Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem, Suheil Khaliliyya, told Ma'an Wednesday that Israel is working to avoid any possible evacuation of east Bethlehem outposts and settlements as part of future agreements with the Palestinians.
Locals told Ma'an Tuesday that lorries were seen unloading new mobile homes at Israeli settlements in east Bethlehem near Herodium.
Residents also said that Israeli authorities had started to build more than 40 new houses in al-Uqban neighborhood of Jannatah village between the settlements of Noqedim and Teqoa in preparation to build a new settlement east of Bethlehem.
The Eastern Gush Etzion Bloc, says Khaliliyya, was built between 1998 and 2002. It consists of the illegal settlements of Noqedim, Teqoa and Kfar Eldad in addition to five illegal outposts.
More than 500 acres of private Palestinian land have been confiscated by the Israeli authorities to build the eastern bloc.
Khaliliyya highlighted that Israel had built a bypass road to serve these settlements and outposts known as route 356. This route, he said, enables settlers to drive to Jerusalem in 10-15 minutes.
The mayor of Jannatah, Ziad Ali, pointed out that the Israeli Civil Administration published an announcement in newspapers on July 25 notifying Palestinian landowners about the new construction.
The announcement, he said, highlighted that Palestinian land would be confiscated for the purpose of building 40 settlement houses in al-Uqban area near Herodium.
Ali added that the Palestinian land owners tried repeatedly to access their land in order to tend them, and collect their olive crops, but Israeli settlers "protected by occupation forces prevented them."
"Since the beginning of the year 2000, we have been denied access to our lands. We have been assaulted several times, and we were fired at directly to prevent us from reaching our lands, but we insist that we will remain on our land and never leave them," landowner Hajj Dawood al-Tinih told Ma’an.
He said Israeli authorities delivered a confiscation order related to land near Herodium in October 2012.