Israel’s housing ministry published tenders for the construction of more than 700 new homes for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, said reports.
The publication is the first since hawkish Prime Minister Ariel Sharon took office almost a month ago.
The tenders cover 500 units in Maale Adumim, the largest settlement that lies east of Jerusalem, and 212 in Alfei Menasheh near the West Bank city of Qalqilya, said Haaretz newspaper.
Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said the tenders were part of an Israeli "policy of aggression," according to AFP.
"These tenders are destructive measures aimed at the whole peace process," he told the agency.
"The true policy of the Sharon government is a policy of settlement, a policy of ignoring agreements and a policy of aggression against the Palestinian people and the whole world, including the United States of America."
Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's top adviser Nabil Abu Rudeina said the move "will increase the levels of violence and tension in the whole region."
He called the tenders part of an Israeli strategy to scuttle "American efforts to revive the process," the day after an Israeli-Palestinian security meeting took place with US participation.
"We demand that the American administration pressure Israel to stop its aggression and settlement activity," Abu Rudeina told AFP.
A leading Israeli peace activist said the tenders publication following a resumption of political and security contacts between Israel and the Palestinians on Wednesday looked like "sabotage," Haaretz said.
"It is becoming clear that a settlement freeze will be a key component of the ceasefire currently being negotiated," said Moria Shlomot, director of Peace Now group.
The group said there are currently 6,130 housing units under construction in the settlements, with 3,575 tenders published under former prime minister Ehud Barak.
"The timing of this publication raises the suspicion of intent to sabotage any chance of that ceasefire being achieved," she said in a statement – Albawaba.com
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