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Israel's settlement watchdog says government has issued building tenders for West Bank

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JERUSALEM — Israel's settlement watchdog group said Friday that the government has issued hundreds of tenders for housing units in the West Bank, an area the Palestinians demand for their future state, a move that comes several weeks before Israel's national election.

Peace Now said on Friday that 450 tenders have been issued.

Hagit Ofran of Peace Now accused the Israeli government of "trying to create facts on the ground ahead of the election."

A senior Israel government official said the current batch of tenders is actually a group of old unpurchased tenders that are being reissued.

"Contrary to reports there has been no authorization for new construction," the official said anonymously in line with protocol. "This is merely the automatic recycling of construction procedure for housing units announced over a year ago during negotiations with Palestinians which were known to all parties, no new housing units have been authorized or added."

The March 17 elections are widely seen as a vote of confidence in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his hawkish government.

Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians are demanding the area as part of their future state along with the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.

PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the memorial ceremony of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, on the 1st anniversary of his death at his grave site, in Havat Shikmim southern Israel, Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015.(AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the memorial ceremony of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, on the 1st anniversary of his death at his grave site, in Havat Shikmim southern Israel, Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015.(AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

The international community considers all settlements built in that territory, including those sanctioned by the government, to be illegal.

The Palestinians condemned the new tenders. "With the escalation of its illegal settlement activities, the Israeli government is once again exposing its true intentions of creating 'Greater Israel' at the expense of the strategic requirements for peace," Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi said.

Some Israelis support withdrawing from territory within a peace framework with the Palestinians. Others oppose pulling out from the territory because of its religious and historic significance and view the areas as their biblical heartland and heritage.

A major Israeli concern is that a territorial withdrawal would pose a serious security risk. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and the Islamic militant group Hamas later took control of Gaza and escalated attacks on Israel from the territory.

U.S.-mediated peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians aimed at a two-state solution that would mean Israeli withdrawals from territory, collapsed last year in part over settlements. Israel has said the issue should be resolved along with security arrangements and other core disputes through negotiations.

In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said issuing tenders for the units "does nothing to bolster Israel's security" and in fact would do exactly the opposite.

"This, in our view, would only undermine the ability of the Israelis to build support internationally and to ultimately reach the kind of peace agreement with a two-state solution that we believe is clearly in the interest of Israel's national security," Earnest said.

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Associated Press writer Josh Lederman in Washington contributed reporting

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Photo Gallery:
PHOTO: FILE - In this Sept. 16, 2014 file photo, Palestinians laborers work at a construction site in the Jewish West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim, near Jerusalem. Israel's settlement watchdog group, Peace Now, said on Friday Jan. 30, 2015 that the government has issued 450 tenders for housing units in the West Bank, an area the Palestinians demand for their future state. The move comes ahead of Israel's national elections in March 17. U.S.-mediated peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed last year in part over Jewish settlements. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)
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