Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a special memorial session in the Knesset in Jerusalem, marking the 15 year anniversary of slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin death, October 20, 2010. Rabin was murdered by a right-wing Jew after a peace rally in Tel Aviv in 1995. UPI/Debbie Hill | License Photo
TEL AVIV, Israel, Oct. 21 (UPI) -- Hundreds of units are under construction in the West Bank less than four weeks since the end of Israel's building freeze, settler leaders and opponents say.
The New York Times reported Thursday foundations have been dug for 300 units and work is ongoing on hundreds more, many in smaller settlements unlikely to remain part of Israel in any two-state deal with Palestinians.
Hagit Ofran monitors settlement construction for Peace Now, a group that opposes it. She told the Times she was preparing a report showing intensive building was under way in at least 36 settlements, especially the smaller ones.
"They suspect another freeze is coming and they are running to build," she said by telephone.
Settler leaders confirmed Ofran's numbers and said they wished they had been able to build still more.
"Why should there be any place in Israel where we are barred from building?" Naftali Bennett, director of the Yesha Council, the settler group, told the Times.
Robert H. Serry, the U.N. special envoy for Middle East peace, issued a statement condemning the new building in the West Bank: "Renewed settlement construction, which is illegal under international law, runs contrary to the international community's repeated appeals to the parties to create conditions conducive to negotiations, and will only further undermine trust. We continue to strongly support efforts to create conditions for the resumption of successful negotiations."
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said "fundamentalist Islam" is the greatest enemy to peace in the Middle East.
Addressing the Israeli Knesset during a session to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Netanyahu also said construction in existing West Bank settlements "does not contradict the aspiration for peace and an agreement," the Palestinian Ma'an News Agency reported.
Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down after Netanyahu refused to extend restrictions on settlement expansion despite pleas by the United States, the United Nations and the European Union, the report said.