JERUSALEM: Israel unveiled plans on Friday to build more than 1,800 new settler homes, a watchdog said, as the United States tried to push faltering peace talks forward.
The housing ministry announced the plans for 1,076 units in annexed east Jerusalem and 801 in the occupied West Bank, said the Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now.
The move comes a week after US Secretary of State John Kerry visited the region in his latest effort to push Israeli and Palestinian leaders towards an elusive peace deal.
Israel released 26 long-serving Palestinian prisoners on December 31, the third of four batches to be freed as a goodwill gesture under the ongoing talks.
Plans announced the during negotiations for thousands of new settler homes are seen as efforts by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to appease hardliners who oppose any concessions to the Palestinians.
"The housing ministry announced the plans this morning," Peace Now spokesman Lior Amihai told AFP.
"Many of the units will be built in existing settlements such as Efrat and Ariel in the West Bank, and Ramat Shlomo, Ramot and Pisgat Zeev in east Jerusalem," he said.
The ministry could not be immediately reached for confirmation.
Kerry kick-started negotiations in July after a three-year hiatus, but his 10th visit was clouded by bitter recriminations from both sides, who accused each other of lacking commitment to building peace after decades of conflict.
Israel freed the third of four batches of long-serving Palestinian prisoners on December 31, ahead of Kerry's visit.
The two previous prisoner releases coincided directly with announcements for thousands of new settler homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, in efforts by Netanyahu to appease the Israeli public and hardline cabinet members who oppose peace talks or the creation of a Palestinian state outright.
But Netanyahu delayed the latest settlement announcement, media reports said, so as not to anger US negotiators.
The settlement plans have provoked angry reaction from the international community and from Palestinian negotiators.
The international community considers the colonisation of occupied land to be illegal, and the Palestinians have long viewed settlement construction as a key obstacle to reaching a peace agreement.
Some 350,000 Jewish settlers live in the occupied West Bank, in addition to another 200,000 Israelis settled in occupied and annexed east Jerusalem. (AFP)