Israel approves plans for more than 800 more settler homes

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel approved on Monday plans to build more than 800 settler homes on occupied land, in a move Palestinians said was aimed at venting Israeli anger toward a historic deal Western powers have struck with Iran over its nuclear program. Lior Amihai, a spokesman for Israeli settler watch group Peace Now, said authorities first advanced the plans for 831 homes in five West Bank settlements earlier this month. These plans were in addition to thousands of other settler homes Israel has announced since U.S.-brokered peace negotiations with the Palestinians resumed in July after a three-year stalemate. The Israeli civil administration in the West Bank which approves settlement plans had no immediate comment. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's top aide, Nabil Abu Rdeineh, condemned the announcement and said Palestinians "consider it the continuation of a policy of escalation aimed at putting obstacles in front of the peace process." Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "shouldn't settle his scores with the United States at the expense of our people," Abu Rdeineh told Reuters, connecting the latest settlement plan with Israel's objections to world powers' deal with Iran on Saturday to curb its nuclear program. Israel feels the deal with Iran fails to strip the Islamic republic of a future ability to build a nuclear bomb. Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons. Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat denounced what he called an Israeli plan to destroy chances of negotiating the terms of Palestinian statehood alongside Israel. More than 500,000 Israeli settlers live in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem alongside 2.5 million Palestinians. Israel cites historical and Biblical links to those areas. Most countries consider the settlements Israel has built on land it captured in the 1967 Middle East war to be illegal. (Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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