UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is "alarmed" by Israel's plans to expropriate 400 hectares (988 acres or 4,000 dunams) of Palestinian land in the Bethlehem area in the south of the West Bank, his spokesperson said late Monday.
Israel announced the move on Sunday, with the IDF saying the step stemmed from political decisions taken after the June killing of three Israeli teenagers snatched from a roadside in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc.
"The Secretary-General is alarmed by yesterday’s announcement by Israeli authorities to declare as so-called 'state land' nearly 1,000 acres of land in the Bethlehem area of the West Bank," the spokesperson said.
Settlement building in the West bank (Photo: Reuters)
"The seizure of such a large swath of land risks paving the way for further settlement activity, which -– as the United Nations has reiterated on many occasions -– is illegal under international law and runs totally counter to the pursuit of a two-state solution.
A settlement in the West Bank (Photo: AFP)
"The secretary-general calls on Israel to heed the calls of the international community to refrain from settlement activity and abide by its commitments under international law and the Quartet Road Map."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (Photo: Haim Zach, GPO)
The United States urged Israel earlier Monday to reverse the plan, which has angered the Palestinians and alarmed Israeli peace campaigners.
Egypt also slammed the move, saying "This is not a positive step -- it contradicts international law and will have negative consequences on the peace process," a foreign ministry statement in Cairo said.
Egypt last week mediated a permanent truce between Israel and the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip enclave to end a bloody and devastating 50-day war - the deadliest in years.
Negotiators are expected to return to Cairo within a month to discuss crunch issues such as Hamas's demands for a port and an airport and the release of prisoners, as well as Israel's call for militants in the Palestinian territory to be disarmed.
The foreign ministry did not mention the Gaza truce talks but insisted that Israel's planned land grab in the West Bank would be "an obstacle" to a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
Rights watchdog Amnesty International also denounced the Israeli plans, saying that it "appears to be the largest land grab in the occupied Palestinian territories since 1980".
"Israel’s strategy of illegally confiscating land for settlements in the West Bank must stop once and for all," said Amnesty's Philip Luther.
On Sunday, the IDF's COGAT (Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories) said: "On the instructions of the political echelon... 4,000 dunams at Gevaot (settlement) is declared as state land."
It said the move stemmed from political decisions taken after the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the same area.
The Palestinians have called for diplomatic action against Israel, while Israeli peace campaigners said the land expropriation is the biggest of its kind in three decades.
"As far as we know, this declaration is unprecedented in its scope since the 1980s and can dramatically change the reality in the Gush Etzion and the Bethlehem areas," Peace Now said on Sunday.