Israeli settler group shrugs off White House criticism

The Trump administration said on Thursday that Israel's building of new settlements and expansion of existing ones in the occupied territories may not help to achieve peace with Palestinians, adopting a more measured tone than previous pro-Israel announcements.

Trump has been perceived as sympathetic to the settlements.

But in a significant break with the Obama administration, Trump's White House has not condemned any of the four settlement expansions announced by Israel since he took office.

Delving into the Mideast peace process and one of the major points of contention between the Netanyahu and Obama governments this evening, the White House said Israeli settlement construction may not be a good thing.

While Britain, Germany and the European Union have spoken out against the new spike in settlement activity, the statement insisted Mr Trump had yet to take an official position on the issue.

For weeks following President Donald Trump's surprise election triumph, advocates for the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank were hailing the dawn of a new age.

The Israeli leader is due to visit Washington on February 15 and now it appears he is coming to London ahead of that trip.

The UK today issued a fresh condemnation of the Israeli government's latest announcement of new settlements.

Newly sworn-in US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke by phone with Mr Netanyahu on Thursday.

Since the January 20 inauguration of Trump, Israel has approved the construction of 566 housing units in three settlement neighbourhoods of annexed east Jerusalem and 5,502 more elsewhere in the West Bank.

Around 330 Israeli settlers live in Amona, the largest of scores of outposts built in the West Bank without official authorisation.

Israel has been pursuing an aggressive illegal expansionist policy on Palestinian land it has seized following the Six Day War in 1967.

Since that time, it has greatly expanded its existing settlements and allowed dozens of unauthorised outposts to sprout up, in some cases subsequently legalising them.

"As the President has expressed many times, he hopes to achieve peace throughout the Middle East region", the statement adds.

With no weapons visible, but wearing backpacks, hundreds of police walked past burning tyres and pushed back against scores of nationalist Israeli youths who flocked to Amona in support of the settlers. Protesters sprayed fire extinguishers at police and threw rocks, paint bottles and wooden planks, police said. The order comes as the High Court of Justice simultaneously deliberates over a relocation plan that would see the settlers moved to a nearby site.

Thirteen protesters were detained by police during the scuffles and there were a few instances of stone-throwing.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP there were around 3,000 officers in and around Amona to move the 42 families, "and hopefully people will evacuate the area peacefully and quietly".

  • Larry Hoffman